Effective communication - Handling negative responses

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Difficult conversations can provoke emotional responses from people and when emotions run high, it can become difficult to make any forward progress if you don't manage the situation correctly.

Instead of a constructive conversation focused on problem solving, it can quickly descend into blaming and personal attacks - and that is not a good place to be.

Here are some tips for handling negative responses and keeping the conversation on track.

Handling negative responses

Helpful tips

  • Stay calm - Never lose your cool, it’s counterproductive. That doesn't mean you can't be stern and assert yourself, just don't let your emotions get the better of you.
  • Listen and show empathy - Often people just want to be heard and understood. Let the person speak and confirm what you've heard to show that you understand e.g. "So John delivered the work to you late. I can see how that would be frustrating". It will help them to calm down and give you a good understanding of the issues that you need to address to move things forward.
  • Focus on the problem - When you talk about a problem, you talk about facts e.g. "Your work was delivered late." When you talk about a person, you talk about personal opinions e.g. "You don't work hard enough" which encourages negative emotional responses. Keep the conversation focused on the problem not the person.
  • Accept responsibility - Be prepared to take what comes back at you. If you are given some feedback during the conversation, don’t dodge it, explore it further and try to get to the root of the issue.

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Next: Effective communication - Additional resources