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Having Difficult Conversations – Tips from Maureen Bailey, Founder and CEO of Inner Strength Network

Date: Thursday, 17th Feb 2022 | Category: Blogs

An important theme arising out of the MSCP’s recent Baby Grace review was around the confidence of practitioners to have difficult conversations. However, having difficult conversations is a really important part of our work and we want to encourage all practitioners to consider how they approach these difficult conversations, whether with families, colleagues or wider networks.

Maureen Bailey, Founder and CEO of Inner Strength Network, has been supporting the MSCP in considering this important topic and delivered a session at our last Full Partnership meeting. Since then she has also been working with health partners to further embed learning in this area in response to the Baby Grace findings, with accredited programmes for health professionals coming soon. Here Maureen shares her top tips for having difficult conversations – we hope you find it useful:-



Mark has been performing poorly for the last 8 months. You are a relatively new manager,
and you need to speak to Mark about his performance and the impact of this on the team.
In the past, when previous managers have raised these issues with him, he has made
allegations of bullying and taken time off because of stress.

How do you have this conversation without being accused of being a bully?

You need to have a difficult conversation.


A difficult conversation is

  1. a high stakes conversation
  2. that is absolutely necessary,
  3. it involves risk and vulnerability for all parties and
  4. will require courage.

Reasons why we find it difficult includes.:

  • Fear of the unknown
  • Real or imagined fear of aggression or defensiveness in either party
  • There is a high level of emotional and professional risk


Harvard Business Review defines a difficult conversation as:

A difficult conversation is one in which the other person has a viewpoint that differs from
yours, one or both of you feel insecure in some way, and the stakes seem high*


Types of subjects which may make us feel awkward include.

  • Poor behaviour or misconduct
  • Obesity
  • Domestic Abuse
  • Mental Health
  • Safeguarding

Difficult conversations involve a range of fears. According to authors Henry Cloud and John
Townsend, people fear the following things:

  • Losing the relationship: They fear that the person will withdraw either emotionally
    or physically from them.
  • Being the object of anger: They don’t want to receive someone’s rage or blame
    about being confronted.
  • Being hurtful: They are concerned about wounding the person and hurting their
  • Being perceived as bad: They want to be seen as a nice person, and they fear they
    will be seen as unloving and unkind.**



PLAN: If you plan what you are going to say it will help with delivery. In planning your
conversation, think about the other person’s feelings and points of view. Imagine you will
respond and what would be helpful.

PLACE: Be in a place without interruptions it will work out better

PACE: If you appear in a rush or treat it casually it will not be received well

Part of the challenge with difficult conversations is the framing of these interactions as
‘difficult’. This immediately raises barriers. At the Inner Strength Network, we reframe
these conversations as courageous conversations.

Some Key Behaviours

  • COURAGEOUS – reframe our conversations and call it courageous conversations
    ensuring that our fear does not disable us. Author and researcher Brené Brown
    “Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for
    heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant “To speak one’s mind by
    telling all one’s heart.” Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we
    typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this
    definition fails to recognise the inner strength and level of commitment required for
    us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our
    experiences — good and bad. Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as “ordinary
  • CLEAR about the issue you want to address in the conversation.
  • FACTUAL – State the facts eg “ I noticed that you interrupt me in meetings every
    time I am speaking but you don’t do it to other people in the room- this makes me
    feel like you are undermining my authority”
  • TRUTHFUL “ I think it is important to say how your behaviour is making me feel now
    before it gets worse
  • COMPASSIONATE; Listen, tone, remain calm


by Maureen Bailey LLB (HONS) Trainer



* Harvard Business Review Press (2016), Difficult Conversations Craft a clear message: Manage emotions, Focus on a solution, Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation

**  Henry Cloud and John Townsend (2003) How to Have That Difficult Conversation Copyright, Zondervan,

*** Brené Brown, (2007) I Thought It Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame, Gotham Books