Elephant in the office: how to have hard conversations at work

Whether you’re telling a client the project is delayed, asking for a pay rise or dealing with a challenging colleague, handling difficult conversations at work is an inevitable part of any job.

GraceAs part of a programme of events designed to support recent graduates, Grace Louisy (BA International Relations with Year Abroad, 2016) and Theo Rutherford (BEng Computer Systems Engineering, 2010) shared their advice for managing "elephant in the office" conversations.

Grace, Head of Operations at Headbox, shared her personal experience of having a challenging conversation with her manager and how she approached it. She says: 'I reminded myself that it is a conversation, not a confrontation. I made sure I was well prepared and carefully formulated what I wanted to say. I had clear and factual examples before the conversation.

'I think it's important to always have empathy with the person Theowho you are speaking to. I approached it with kindness and gave them the benefit of the doubt. It was a turning point and our relationship improved afterwards.'

Theo, Engineering Manager at Gen™, explained that early in his career he didn't always feel that he handled difficult conversations well and has since learned a lot. 

He says: 'It's important to be clear, confident and authentic with what your expectations are for the conversation. Also, you should not have difficult conversations in person while angry, nor send an email while angry. It's best to write the email, sleep on it and review it the next day.

'If you are in a more junior role, don't feel that you have to accept the situation as it is. Work out what you want, come prepared and have that conversation.'

Our Young Alumni Professional Event series aims to support graduates to navigate post-University life with events from managing finances to gaining careers advice from senior leaders in their industry.

Make sure your contact details are up to date to be the first to hear about the next event. If you could volunteer to give advice as part of a panel at a future event, please get in touch with Student and Recent Graduate Engagement Manager, Eleanor Woulfe.