How to remove the fear from difficult conversations

When faced with a difficult conversation, you must be positive and curious. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? In practice, it’s tough. What does a curious conversation look like? What might it sound like? If your workplace has long resembled a place of tribal divisions rather than harmonious coexistence it’s hard to shake off old habits.

Those at the top have to lead the way in removing fear from difficult conversations. And in order to do so, leaders must first be equipped to take fear out of the equation.

Empower leaders with knowledge

Whether you’re commissioning training or delivering a programme to demystify difficult conversations, a series of practical steps help to embed learning. Even if you’re looking to improve your own ability to deal with difficult conversations, having the know-how is empowering.

There are five key elements to remove fear from difficult conversations:


Fear is an innate part of being human. Knowing why you feel afraid of something helps you control the way you react to that emotion. An individual’s personality, values and drivers all need to be explored to help them understand what’s causing the fear.

Self-awareness and impact

When leaders are aware of how they impact on others, they are able to make choices about their impact. For example, do they want to pass on the feeling of fear by speaking and behaving angrily? Knowing that they can make a change, by talking calmly for instance, helps leaders feel in control of the situation, which in turn increases their confidence when having a difficult conversation.


Good rapport is often recognised as a vital ingredient to business success. However, it shouldn’t only be reserved for your relationships with clients; rapport is important for internal relations as well. Giving leaders the knowledge and tools to build rapport with colleagues increases their confidence to do so and makes them feel better equipped to have productive conversations.

Put the tools to use

Having the right tools to complete a task does provide a confidence boost. But that doesn’t mean that you’re ready to drive in the fast lane on the same day you pass your driving test! Practise and reflection are vital. Learning that immerses leaders in what they are being asked to do provides hands-on experience. A period of reflection afterwards creates the space to absorb the learning. Experience and reflection together is a powerful catalyst for change.

The environment makes or breaks practice

Exploring our own selves is challenging. A safe space free from judgement supports learning and gives confidence in the face of a difficult task. And if that space is away from the office, all the better. Freedom from distractions allows total immersion in the experience. Suspension of normal life means deeper reflection and inquiry, creating leaders who are better able to take the fear out of difficult conversations.

Difficult conversations are scary and fear won’t be banished entirely. Fear will always be there; the ability to recognise it and react to it with an open, positive and curious attitude determines whether fear will dictate the direction of the conversation or not. If leaders can prevent their own fears from controlling their behaviour they stand a better chance of getting a positive reaction from their colleagues.

Like a waterfall, the effect trickles down through the organisation and changes for the better start to be seen in increased productivity, better relationships and innovative thinking. Improved business performance and a lack of fear: is it time for your organisation to make a change?

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