How to Introduce a Difficult Topic

Leadership Connections Blog

Do you want to voice a frustration at work, but feel anxious about the consequences?  You can introduce a touchy subject – if you use the right approach.

Brandon, 35, was getting mixed signals about his scope of responsibility.  Although he was not technically responsible for the inside sales team, team members often came to him with issues that his manager and other leaders expected him to resolve.  However, in other conversations, his manager also told him not to spend his time on the inside sales group, because he needed to manage his own responsibilities effectively.  Brandon wanted to approach his manager with his frustrations, but was concerned about introducing this difficult topic because of how these negative feelings might come across.

In our experience, the best way to discuss touchy topics is to keep the conversation as informal, objective, and open as possible.

  • Informal: Don’t schedule a specific meeting—drop by or tack the discussion on to the end of another meeting.  “I’d like to talk with you about something I’m struggling with and get your input."
  • Objective: Use a white board or piece of paper to draw the focus to the facts rather than your complaints, allowing the discussion to be more objective. “Let’s outline the current structure, then a couple of examples of specific interactions."
  • Open: Ask open ended questions to gain information and insight.  “Help me understand your point of view on this.”  “How do you think we can find an acceptable solution?"

Leader's Reaction:

Brandon had some difficulty separating himself from what he saw as an obvious inconsistency: “The manager should see this!” However, he understood that he needs to own both the issues and solution.


Brandon’s manager was resistant at first.  However, throughout the conversation, Brandon successfully kept the focus on the work – what is happening – rather than on his own frustrations and complaints.  In the end, the manager came to understand the mixed messages he was sending, and he and Brandon are currently working on a solution.

For more information on this topic and other's, take alook at our books on by clicking on the links below.

The Talent Assessment and Development Pocket Tool Kit

The Talent Selection and Onboarding Pocket Tool Kit

Solving Employee Performance Problems: How to Spot Problems Early, Take Appropriate Action and Bring Out the best in Everyone

Perfect Phrases for Employee Onboarding and Orientation