Difficult Conversations – Dealing with Anger


What makes a conversation difficult?

Each conversation is unique, but there are often common reasons why they are difficult.  These common reasons include:


  • Human nature – I always try to avoid conflict
  • Embarrassment – I don’t like awkward situations
  • It might all go wrong – I could end up with a grievance or worse
  • It might become emotional – I can’t deal with  tears
  • It will take too long – Isn’t it HR or someone else’s job anyway?

What should I do if the employee becomes angry?

Anger can take many forms, managing your response, when an employee reacts angrily, is critical.

If you anticipate an angry reaction to a difficult conversation, ensure you have someone with you in the meeting to act as a witness.

Maintaining your composure will help to bring the situation under control.

  • Moderate your voice
  • Stay seated and encourage the employee to also sit down
  • Allow the employee to vent without reacting or becoming defensive
  • Remember their anger is probably not personal, but may be the result of other issues of which you are not aware
  • Once the employee becomes a little more receptive repeat your key messages several times to ensure that they are heard.
  • If the employee becomes aggressive or threatening you will need to adjourn the meeting.
  • Having someone in the meeting with you is very helpful, not only to act as an independent witness, but also to ensure your protection.

Most importantly you need to stay calm and not respond in a similar manner.  If you are unable to calm the employee down sufficiently to continue the conversation, adjourn the meeting to another place and time.

Always ensure that you:

  • Document the meeting as soon as it is over
  • Ideally have a witness present at the meeting to be an independent pair of eyes observing proceedings
  • Prepare well.  Have all the information you need to hand, consider the likely responses you will encounter and how you might react.
  • Be clear on the outcome that you want to achieve from the meeting.  This will enable you to be better able to manage your reaction to events as they unfold

If you would like to know

  • What can go wrong?
  • How you ensure your message is heard and accepted?
  • How you can reduce the risk of things going wrong?

Read our Difficult conversations Blog


Deal with matters as they arise, don’t leave until they become a problem

Approach issues on an informal basis first

Prepare well, gather evidence, articulate key points, devise questions & responses

Ensure you document the conversation in case matters are not concluded

Be prepared to adjourn and continue the conversation at another time, place or with expert help alongside you

Be prepared for the unexpected!