Although many of us wish to avoid them – difficult conversations are inevitable in our personal and professional lives. These might be communicating bad news, addressing conflicts, performance issues or giving constructive feedback to other members of the team.

Understandably, these conversations can be emotionally charged for those involved and many people will go to great lengths to avoid them. In the workplace, the avoidance of or poor handling of such conversations can lead to an environment of fear, anxiety and false information. Such environments become toxic, with employees making up stories about what they believe is going on. This isn’t good for anyone. 

When leaders and management approach difficult conversations promptly, consciously with empathy and head on, they create an environment where everything can be discussed and handled together. This approach aids the quick and efficient resolution of workplace challenges and so results in enhanced employee performance, improved relationships and stronger connections to the company, its mission, values, and its workforce.


An honest, open workplace

It sets the foundation for an honest, open workplace where staff can thrive and be productive because they feel psychologically safe and problems are faced as they arise.

If you’re in a leadership role, delivering bad news, or having challenging conversations is inevitable and to do it well often requires some prior thought and consideration.

Through cultivating conscious connections and utilising Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) techniques, difficult conversations can be transformed into opportunities for growth, understanding, and trust-building. A few simple techniques are illustrated below.


Useful Tools in NLP

What is a Conscious Connection?

This is when we’re being truly present and operating from our conscious rather than our unconscious mind. We’re focused on the situation at hand, we’re present in the conversation and know exactly what we’re saying. We aren’t being affected by unconscious personal triggers and stories created about a situation. Creating a conscious connection requires listening and responding calmly and thoughtfully.


Being Congruent in Our Message

This means being true to ourselves, which requires us to increase our self awareness and understand who we are and our values and beliefs. It’s vital for leaders to do personal development work so they can lead congruently. NLP can clear unhelpful behaviours, thoughts and emotions and assist us in developing our emotional intelligence. That way we can be much better placed to lead from an authentic space, be decisive and communicate effectively.

When approaching difficult conversations, it’s essential to be congruent with our message. This means aligning our words, tone, and physiology with our internal thoughts and feelings so our message comes across as genuine and sincere, which builds trust and openness. It opens up a real dialogue and avoids defensiveness.


Building Rapport

Rapport is fundamental for effective communication and relationship building, especially so when approaching a difficult conversation. It builds trust and creates a safe space for both parties to express themselves honestly.


Matching and Mirroring

We consciously use matching and mirroring in NLP to subtly synchronize with the other person’s verbal and non-verbal communication. For example, by subtlely adopting a similar tone, pace and body language as the other person, we can create a sense of familiarity and comfort. Subtlety is key as overt matching and mirroring is unsettling and just plain weird!

Managing Your State – Staying Relaxed and Calm

To communicate effectively, it’s essential to maintain relaxed and calm. When we’re tense or anxious, it can lead to defensiveness, misunderstandings and escalation. NLP offers powerful techniques to manage our state and create a sense of inner peace.


Anchoring positive feelings

In NLP, we use a technique called anchoring, which is where an intense positive feeling or emotion (state) is connected to a physical or mental stimulus. Prior to engaging in a difficult conversation, we can anchor feelings of confidence and empathy by recalling a time when we felt at our very best. As the feeling / emotion rises inside us we can squeeze an earlobe or thumb and finger together. We then repeat the process several times using the same or different intense remembered events to strengthen (stack) the anchored state. Later, during a conversation, we can activate the anchor by squeezing the earlobe or thumb/finger, and we’ll find ourselves more aligned.



Language is central to NLP and part of that is elegant and powerful reframing, which enables us to change the way we perceive a situation or event. For example, rather than thinking a difficult conversation will be daunting, view it as an opportunity for growth and resolution. By reframing it positively, we reduce feelings of anxiety and can approach a difficult conversation with greater clarity and more confidence. This will inevitably produce a more successful outcome.


Using metaphor

Metaphor is a powerful way to convey a message and we use them all the time. They’re so ingrained in our language that most of the time we don’t notice we’re doing it.

Using metaphor can help us convey a message, idea or concept using a powerful image or vivid expression. With it we can communicate vast amounts of information using just a few words. Metaphor appeals more to the unconscious mind, igniting curiosity and remove the likelihood of important information being deleted or distorted.


These are a few examples of tools we use in NLP that can help transform difficult conversations! Managing such conversations requires us to cultivate conscious connection authentically.

By incorporating these simple tools into your communication strategy, you’ll be able to enhance your ability to handle conflict or deliver ‘bad news’ with grace and understanding. Being congruent with your message, managing your state, and building rapport are powerful tools that will not only lead to better outcomes, they’ll also contribute to a more harmonious and supportive work environment. Difficult conversations can be a great opportunity for growth and meaningful connection. If you’re curious to discover more about how NLP can transform your leadership skills please get in touch here. Or you can find more training details here.