Improve Communication at Work: 7 Tips for Hard Conversations

Improve Communication at Work

It’s common for defenses to be high when difficult conversations roll around — especially at work — so it’s key that you have a plan for when they do. Yes, they’re awkward, sometimes unpleasant, and ultimately, inevitable in any workplace. But with these seven tactics, you’ll be able to improve communication at work in no time!

In fact, a whopping 70 percent of employees avoid difficult conversations in the workplace, according to a study by career-coaching startup Bravely. This can lower morale and often forms the foundation for a toxic work environment. So like they say, if you’re aren’t uncomfortable, you’re probably not growing. In that spirit of growth, let’s face it head on together.

Here are our tips for navigating difficult workplace situations moving forward so that you can maximize productivity, remain engaged, and communicate more effectively.

1. To Improve Communication at Work Resist the Urge to Avoid

According to Officevibe, an online platform that helps managers cultivate stronger, healthier relationships, “nearly 1 in 4 employees do not feel that their manager is aware of employee pain points.” Furthermore, keeping emotions in long term may create resentment and breed a toxic workplace culture. 

Plus, biting your tongue and dodging long-deferred, important conversations may hurt more than just company relationships; it may adversely impact productivity and profits. 

According to Forbes, avoiding difficult conversations can actually lead to dysfunction and lack of performance. A major study found that employees spend an average of 2.8 hours a week dealing with conflict, which amounts to roughly $359 billion in workforce costs. Even if it’s uncomfortable, open conversations addressing difficult situations are important for our well-being and mental health, as well as for fostering stronger relationships and teams at work.

2. Assume Nothing

You know what they say about assuming things! So as hard as this may be, come into the conversation with a clear head and an open mind. Giving the conversation’s participants the benefit of the doubt will help prevent them from getting defensive, which of course, will make the conversation even more difficult.

This is an opportunity to practice compassion. Ask questions about people’s experiences and listen to what they say. Important things will be said and the better you listen, the better the people having the conversation will listen to each other. We all want to be heard and recognized, and this approach will put you in the right mindset to more effectively listen to your colleagues, even when it’s things that are hard to hear.

3. Focus on Facts & Behaviors to Improve Communication at Work

It’s easy to point fingers and place blame based on your perceptions and implications. Try to confront behavior, not your assessment of their behavior. Using inferences like “irresponsible” or “not a team player” causes defensiveness and makes success less likely. 

You must ask yourself, “What is the evidence for my inference?” Use the following kind of language conventions to stick to behaviors: “When you do X, it causes me to think you are Y.” Plan before and maybe even practice so you keep your composure. 

In the process, take responsibility for anything you can directly — helping to mitigate against any backlash or intense feelings by letting the other person know you understand your part in the problem.

4. Communicate with GRIT

No, not grit…but GRIT: Generosity, Respect, Integrity and Truth.

According to Laurie Sudbrink of Unlimited Coaching Solutions, “No one likes to be confronted. Most appreciate being helped. When engaging in a conversation to help, our intent will come from a better place. We won’t feel like we’re confronting the person, and our disposition aligns more naturally. I find it helpful to have an opening statement that portrays my intent. And then commit to being fully present and helpful throughout the dialogue.”

5. Focus on Value & Impact to Improve Communication at Work

Confrontation suggests meeting someone face-to-face with hostile intent. Examine what your true intent is, and ask yourself, how can this conversation create value for me, for the other person, and for the organization?

To prevent them from getting defensive, try using the framework of: situation, behavior, impact. For example, you were in a meeting (the situation; your manager yelled at you and pounded their fist on the table (behavior); and it made you question your ability to do your job (the impact.) When you talk to them, put it in the construct of “when you do this, this is how it affects me.” It doesn’t necessarily have to be how it made you feel. Some of the impacts can be “I didn’t understand where you were coming from,” or “I didn’t fully understand the point you were trying to drive home.” 

6. Bring Solutions 

Move the conversation in a positive direction by bringing suggestions of how to remedy the situation, bringing forth options for how to achieve that. By doing that, you won’t be looked at as complaining but rather, problem solving. It also demonstrates that you respect their time since they probably have limited bandwidth to address this. 


7. Prepare, Plan, and Make Tech Your Friend

Role play, or at minimum, putting yourself in the other’s shoes is an effective way to prepare for and practice tough conversations. Write down what you want to say and be clear on the goal of the conversation — what do you want someone to leave with? as an “a-ha” or action item?

Rehearsing what and how you want to say something will help you keep the conversation direct and on track — avoiding distraction and potentially saying hurtful things that may cause further issues or conflict.

Further, this is where emotional intelligence or EI/EQ comes into play too. Working well with others — including having difficult conversations — takes EQ. And while different experiences and repeated interactions with others will help improve and strengthen your emotional intelligence, there’s also ways to fast-track EQ development.

When you know others’ behaviors, motivators, and work energizers, along with preferences and tendencies related to communication, learning, and influencing, you can better craft your delivery — taking their style into consideration before you engage with them allows you to customize your difficult conversation and increase your chances of a positive outcome. 


See how it works here and let us know if you want to learn more!

Leave a comment

Interested in trying out Humantelligence?

Speak to Solutions Expert