The author of this article is Catherine Hambley, PhD, an organizational psychologist who leverages brain science to promote effectiveness and positive change.

 Of the many challenges physicians encounter, one that often stands out is having difficult conversations with staff. All difficult discussions involve different perspectives between individuals, emotional triggers, and high stakes. With these factors in mind, here are four critical strategies for engaging in difficult conversations:

  1. Have positive intentions. These intentions need to be communicated positively. Inform the staff member that the conversation is intended to help them learn and grow.
  2. Minimize threats for the other person. How dissatisfaction is communicated is critical. Communicate your positive intention but also ask for their perspective on the situation.
  3. Do less “telling” and more “asking.”Use open-ended questions to find out how the person views the situation. This can empower them to explore and examine their own ideas and insights and provide clarity as to what might be at stake.
  4. Focus more on the solution than the problem. Asking questions and providing feedback that is solution-oriented is less threatening than focusing on the problem.  Solution-oriented communication can help foster a positive learning culture.

Successfully managing difficult conversations takes practice and a genuine desire to learn effective communication practices. Using the aforementioned strategies, you may realize that many conversations are not as difficult as you thought they would be.

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