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Christine Laperriere, Executive Director & Lead Coach of the Women of Influence Advancement Centre, shares how to bring insights into action using this interview with multi-Top 25 Woman of Influence, Annette Bergeron, Management Consultant and past President of the Professional Engingeers Ontario.


There are four ways you can manage challenging conversation in the workplace:

1) Being mindful of the mode
2) Focus on common ground
3) Acknowledge effort
4) Move past the conversation

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1. Be mindful of the mode: Annette notes that “people tend to be more aggressive in their emails than they would when you are speaking to them.” Her comment highlights the importance of the mode of communication for challenging conversations. The method of communication can impact both the tone and progression of the conversation. Next time you have to engage in a challenging conversation set up a phone call or in-person meeting. While it may take more effort, working through an issue via a conversation allows both parties to be more sensitive to the other and is much more likely to yield a positive result.

2. Focus on common ground: In preparation for challenging conversations, Annette suggests that you “put yourself in the other person’s shoes.” Next time you are preparing for a difficult conversation, take some time to view the discussion from your counterparts’ perspective. This shift in viewpoint can help you identify common ground. Entering a challenging conversation with a clear idea of mutual interests provides you with a positive starting point. As an added benefit, you can refocus on common goals and interests as a device to defuse tension during the conversation. Common ground can be an invaluable tool during challenging conversations to ensure that the conversation is cordial, productive, and mutually beneficial.

Related: The Advancement Centre runs highly-targets one-day courses including “Leadership Through Change and Conflict.” Click here to see a list of upcoming courses.

3. Acknowledge Effort: Annette begins and ends each challenging conversation by thanking her counterpart. She notes that challenging conversation can stem from someone’s attachment to an idea due to a great passion for the subject. By “acknowledging (the) effort or time people invest,” a challenging conversation can begin on a positive note. Begin your next challenging conversation by thanking the other person for their time and effort. When people feel respected they are less likely to view you as an obstacle or adversary. Next, by using the previously identified common ground as the starting point, you are ready to start a challenging, but hopefully beneficial conversation.

4. Move past the conversation: Once the conversation is done, let it lie. In this video, Annette encourages us “to learn to deal with challenging conversations and compartmentalize afterwards.” Once the conversation has taken place, it doesn’t help to obsess over it. It also doesn’t help to re-approach the individual to clarify your points or further explain yourself and your reasoning. It’s best to think through what you learned and move forward powerfully.

Related: “My team is toxic, but do I have to fire someone?