Back to Work: Navigating Workplace Challenges: Strategies for Productive Dialogue

Ashley Keaveney
Back to Work: Navigating Workplace Challenges: Strategies for Productive Dialogue

We will all be faced with this common workforce challenge at one point or another: engaging in a difficult conversation in the workplace. No one wants to have difficult conversations, but often times they are necessary to solve a conflict and improve one's work environment. So when it comes time for you to have a difficult workplace conversation, you should have a strategy in place to ensure it is handled in the best way possible and the dialogue is productive. The conversation will turn into a missed opportunity if there is no plan in place.

In this episode of  our Back to Work podcast series, our host, Joe McIntyre, and LaTanya Wood El, Program Director of a nonprofit organization, discuss tips to make difficult conversations in the workplace easier to deal with to create a positive and productive environment.


Listen to our Podcast here: 


Are Difficult Conversations More Prevalent Today? 

To many of us, it may seem like tough workplace conversations occur more frequently today than they used to. Throughout the podcast, LaTanya and Joe discuss the reasons that this might be the case. One contributing factor is the generally polarizing nature of politics today; political conversations are more common today and this can lead to disagreements among colleagues that end up needing to be addressed in the workplace. 

The digital age has also had an impact on the prevalence of difficult conversations in the workplace. With different controversial news stories and online conversations constantly circulating social media, disagreements are bound to arise. Overall, people tend to feel more free to express their opinions today without the fear of losing their job. 

As many important events have happened around the globe over the past few years, they have also created the need for difficult conversations. It's best for company leaders to acknowledge these major events when they happen and send out company-wide communications addressing them. While employees may have different opinions on these events, it's still crucial to make it known that employees have a safe space to voice their feelings about these issues.


Implement Policies and Procedures to Guide Conversations 

To ensure employees are being productive in their challenging conversations, your organization's HR team should have policies and procedures in place so your workforce knows how to handle these conversations and they know what's permissible at work. People's defenses will typically be high, so having policies to guide the conversation will ensure your employees do not say anything to get themselves in trouble. 

If employees cannot sort through tough conversations on their own, Laura suggests that supervisors and HR step in to help them by determining what their triggers are, see if they can work together less, and stress to them that they need to remain professional at work regardless of any negative feelings. Sometimes addressing the conflicting employees with a soft approach and acknowledging their feelings can be effective. Also, managers and HR need to soon follow-up with these employees to see if their dispute has been resolved. 

HR should prioritize making everyone feel like they are working in a safe space where their voice will be heard. This can be done through open forums or informal conversations. HR should also make it clear that employees should feel safe addressing their superiors if they are making them uncomfortable in any way, just as superiors should feel safe addressing their employees. 


Throughout the podcast, LaTanya and Joe explore how to be professional at every level during difficult conversations and share best practices to ensure productive dialogues are happening throughout the organization. For additional insights, listen to the full podcast here. 


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