30 Managing Uncomfortable Situations

Arley’s comments: Really good work here! You’ve done some great research and have offered some useful advice for managing uncomfortable situations or conflict in the workplace. You cite effectively and have a thorough reference list. Overall, this chapter is well-developed, but one way to improve the organization would be to use the same style of headings throughout. The headings start off in questions, then change to statements. I think a little more work could be done to improve the flow of the information. For example, if we went from “What’s an uncomfortable situation –> What are the stakes if we don’t solve the problem –> Ways to manage uncomfortable situations,” then the reader can see the progression of the ideas. Overall, however, good job!

Judy’s comments: Overall this page is very well done. It is well written, easy to read, and engaging. The information also comes from best practice research which gives it credibility. To take this information to the next level I would suggest researching and including the following: HR’s role vs. management’s role in managing uncomfortable situations, HR’s role as facilitator, how to give constructive feedback and the principles around this (if you have taken the Human Relations course you should have material on this which you can pull from), and lastly documenting the conversation (next steps including follow-up).

Learning Objectives

  • Defining an uncomfortable situation
  • Importance of managing and risks of not managing an uncomfortable situation
  • Skills to learn to manage uncomfortable situations
  • Difference between an HR’s role and a managers role in handling uncomfortable situations
  • HR’s role as a facilitator
  • Constructive Feedback and its principles
  • Documenting conversations

Defining an Uncomfortable Situation

Managing uncomfortable situations in any aspect of one’s life can be difficult to navigate, but it can be even more difficult when it is in the workplace. What one individual constitutes as uncomfortable may differ from another. An uncomfortable or conflicting situation could arise when individuals have different opinions, perceptions and are unwilling to compromise (Juneja, 2018). Examples of an uncomfortable situation include receiving a rude email from a coworker, a coworker taking credit for another person’s idea, working with a coworker that micromanages, having to report negative feedback about a coworker or having to confront a coworker about how they mistreat others.

Importance: Managing Uncomfortable Situations

There are many reasons for why it is important to learn how to efficiently manage uncomfortable situations at work. Uncomfortable situations including conflict and disagreements can lead to a strained relationship with coworkers and a negative environment; especially if the situation never reaches a solution (Juneja, 2018). This feeling of tension and discomfort could affect your reputation and your ability to successfully complete tasks (Juneja, 2018).

Therefore, learning how to manage uncomfortable situations at work can prevent and resolve future situations that arise. By learning this skill, it allows the stress to dissipate, and the environment becomes happier and more motivating (Juneja, 2018).

Risks of Not Resolving an Uncomfortable Situation

Uncomfortable or conflicting situations are mostly a result of lack of communication and misunderstandings, and if they are not resolved timely it can majorly affect the workplace environment (Holt, n.d.). Ignoring or the

(Gilmore, 2019)

inability to manage uncomfortable situations could create many issues for the organizations and some of them are:

1. Decreased Cohesiveness and Productivity: Ignoring the issue can lead to strained relationship between the employees and decline in morale, which results in decreased cohesiveness and productivity (Holt, n.d.).

2. Employee Turnover: Ignoring the problems lead to an unhealthy environment in the workplace and increased levels of stress and distrust, which results in employees leaving the jobs in a specific period of time i.e. high employee turnover (Holt, n.d.).

3. Divided Teams: Strained relationships between the employees can affect the smooth functioning of an organizations and disrupt the team work, meetings, etc. with their behaviour (Holt, n.d.).

4. Unhealthy Confrontation: Ignoring the issues for prolonged periods of time can result in verbal backlashes in the form of hate speech or abuse and this has a very negative effect on the working environment (Holt, n.d.).

Thus, it is very crucial for the management and the HR professionals to identify and resolve the situation as quickly as possible and luckily, there are skills that can be learned to deal with uncomfortable/ conflicting situations.

Principles: Effective Communication

There are several components that help in handling an uncomfortable situation effectively when it comes to communicating with the individuals at work. Such as, body language, embracing different communication styles, listening, and knowing the appropriate time to communicate (Crawford, 2017).

Body Language

The appropriate body language is essential when trying to deliver a message to a coworker. If your body language does not match what you are saying it could be received incorrectly (Crawford, 2017). For example, if an HR professional is congratulating their assistant on their performance but they are not using eye contact, appear distracted and it does not feel sincere it could cause that individual to lose respect or their productivity could worsen due to feeling undervalued (Crawford, 2017).

Embracing Different Communication Styles

It is important to know that everyone has different communication styles. How one communicates can depend on their age, gender, or personality (Crawford, 2017). Learning how your coworkers communicate will take time and getting to know them is important. For example, a coworker may prefer emails rather than an in-person meeting because they are more efficient that way (Crawford, 2017). It is important you respect your coworkers’ style of communicating and strategise ways to meet in the middle to avoid conflict. If a coworker prefers communication by email because an email allows them to organise their thoughts, suggest they write the email and bring it to the in-person meeting (Crawford, 2017).


Another important factor to communication is listening. It is important to be approachable to your coworkers (Crawford, 2017). If coworkers feel unheard, they may feel unimportant and deter from discussing important topics with you in the future (Crawford, 2017). Being a good listener includes body language and eye contact (Crawford, 2017). It is also important to give them your undivided attention. If a coworker asks to talk and it is a bad time, let them know you want to give them your undivided attention and decide on a time that is better (Crawford, 2017).

Appropriate Time to Communicate

Knowing when to communicate to manage an uncomfortable situations in the workplace is crucial. Timing is important when deciding to communicate with coworkers (Crawford, 2017). Unless the matter is time sensitive, decide on a good time when your coworkers are more likely to be receptive (Crawford, 2017). For example, if there is a task with a deadline, do not tell your coworkers before they go on their lunch break as it could cause some distress and their lunch break is a time to decompress (Crawford, 2017).

Method of Communication

Lastly, using the most appropriate method of communication is important for delivery.  If what needs to be said is longer than a sentence, it is best not to send a text or online message (Crawford, 2017). These types of messages can be perceived incorrectly (Crawford, 2017). If it is more of a lengthy message, it is best to deliver it via email or in person (Crawford, 2017). And of course, if the information is sensitive or important in nature, it should always be done in person (Crawford, 2017).

Managing Workplace Diversity for Better Communication

Diversity Management means accepting and respecting the differences of every individual within the workplace (Patrick & Kumar, 2012). These differences among individuals can include race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic statues, age, religious and political beliefs, ideologies, personality, and physical abilities (Patrick & Kumar, 2012).  These differences can affect how one perceives others and their interactions (Patrick & Kumar, 2012) and can be a potential source of escalating into a conflicting situation. Thus, it is important for organizations with diverse individuals to function appropriately and Human Resource professionals can encourage this with communication, adaptability, and change (Patrick & Kumar, 2012).

Diversity Management is implemented for a positive work environment that encourages and values the differences and similarities of individuals to successfully contribute to how the organization operates (Patrick & Kumar, 2012).

As a Human Resource professional, Diversity Management can be implemented by increasing workplace moral, productivity, and retention. It is important to confront employee complaints, acknowledge, and value diversity and different perspectives (Patrick & Kumar, 2012) to avoid conflicting situations. Practicing Diversity Management will help prevent singling out groups or individuals in the workplace (Patrick & Kumar, 2012).

To practice Diversity Management, it is helpful to encourage feedback about how individuals are receiving respect and feeling valued (Patrick & Kumar, 2012). Another way to encourage this practice is to implement training. The training would consist of how to be respectful of other’s differences and be aware of employee practices that may infringe on the differences of individuals within the workplace (Patrick & Kumar, 2012).

Encourage Open and Respectful Communication

It is important to encourage respectful communication in the workplace.  If your employees and/or coworkers feel encouraged to express and accept honest opinions and constructive criticism it will be more efficient to navigate and manage uncomfortable situations (Secretariat, 2013).

How to encourage this within the workplace? Ask your coworkers and employees to brainstorm ideas on how to improve the company morale, productivity, and interactions (Secretariat, 2013). It is important to model and practice open and respectful communication.  Therefore, if employees/coworkers provide constructive criticism about the way you are managing, it is imperative to keep an open mind and avoiding becoming defensive (Secretariat, 2013). For open communication to be successful, it is important to talk and resolve issues at a team and as soon as the issues arise(Secretariat, 2013). Managing the situation before they become increasingly worse is ideal to maintain a positive work environment(Secretariat, 2013).

Approach the Person Politely and Respectfully

The first and most important step to approach the situation is figuring out what the issue is and what the outcome of the conversation will be (Reddy, 2016). Planning out what to say and even rehearsing it beforehand may help to stay on track.  If the issue is not clear it will be difficult to approach the person in an effective manner.

After creating a plan, it is best to go to the person directly. It is not a good idea to talk to other coworkers and have it spread throughout the workplace (Reddy, 2016).

When approaching the person, explain your perspective in a non-argumentative or accusatory way (Reddy, 2016). Approaching the individual in a polite and light tone may assist the discussion and ultimately lead to a conclusion (Reddy, 2016). If the differences are too extensive, it is important to find a commonality. Such as, the importance of a positive work environment and maintaining professional interactions with each other going forward despite the differences.

HR’s role vs Managers Role in Handling Uncomfortable Situations

The role and responsibilities of HR managers and line managers are bit blurry and sometimes creates confusion in dealing with an uncomfortable situation (Moore, 2017). The role of a line manager is primarily of a supervisor and more at an entry level stage of management (Moore, 2017). They work more closely with the employees like they work to, “get the work done, maintain employee performance and handle disciplinary issues” (Moore, 2017) and are also responsible for achieving organizations goals (Kangal, n.d.). The HR on the other hand, have a duty to assist the line managers in their roles and they focus on a more strategic objective for the company (Moore, 2017)(Kangal, n.d.). The HR’s have an expertise in legal matters and they oversee that the “issues are dealt with fairly, legally and in accordance with the company policies.” (Moore, 2017)

In case of an conflict or an uncomfortable situation the line managers are the ones that encounter with the issue first and take the necessary actions to resolve the conflict and then reach out to the HR’s as they have the expertise to handle the conflict in a more legal manner, by following all the procedures, policies and documentations (Moore, 2017)(Kangal, n.d.).


HR’s Role as a Facilitator


It is frequently observed that many uncomfortable situations are originated from group activities and team meetings in a workplace. Meetings are spaces where people collaboratively make decisions, solve problems and be creative. But, meetings also are a frequent source of frustration and many people thus try to avoid meetings or avoid participating in group activities (McCannell, 2021). This creates tension and an uncomfortable situation at the workplace.

“Facilitation is the art of leading people through processes towards agreed-upon objectives in a manner that encourages participation, ownership and creativity by all those involved.” (Cserti, 2019)

Role of a facilitator

A facilitator is a neutral third party who makes things easier for people in a facilitation discussion (McCannell, 2021) (Cserti, 2019).

The primary role of a facilitator is to run a discussion effectively. The facilitator helps understand the common objectives of the discussion and follow a process for better results (Cserti, 2019). The core idea is to structure the conversations

(Cserti, 2019)
(Cserti, 2019).

by using various facilitation techniques and establish an environment that encourages active participation (Cserti, 2019).

A facilitator is seen as:

  • A ‘Catalyst’ for discussion (Cserti, 2019): The facilitator acts as a catalyst to help transform the raw ideas and the opinions to strategies and decisions by not being the part of the actual discussion (Cserti, 2019).
  • A ‘Conductor’: The facilitator guides the participants by using the facilitation techniques to achieve the goals of the discussion (Cserti, 2019).
  • A ‘Coach’: The facilitator helps establish a constructive method to work, identify the needs and ultimately reach the outcomes (Cserti, 2019).

The Facilitation Process

The HR acts as a facilitator to resolve the conflict/ uncomfortable situation by following a facilitation process.

  • Setting a Clear Agenda and Objective – The facilitator must have a basic structure for the meeting and also have a clear goal that needs to be achieved (Pophal, 2012) (McCannell, 2021).
  • Managing Group Dynamics – The facilitator must have the ability to read the behaviour of the participants, address their concerns and move towards the goal. This can be done by using facilitation techniques like understanding the body language, process observing and questioning (Pophal, 2012) (Cserti, 2019) (McCannell, 2021).
  • Synthesis – The facilitator must use techniques like paraphrasing, summarising and record keeping to synthesise and evaluate the major learnings from the discussion to achieve the goal (Pophal, 2012) (McCannell, 2021).
  • Building Consensus – The facilitator must build consensus to tackle the difficult situation. This can be done by re-instating the objectives of the meeting to the participants and following techniques like finding common ground, gate keeping, effective communication, understanding multiple perspectives, creating a transparent process and by following the ground rules (Pophal, 2012) (Cserti, 2019) (McCannell, 2021).

Facilitating a Resolution

If there is conflict within the workplace between employees, it is important to confront the issue and find a resolution. Firstly, the issue needs to be identified. Such as one’s feelings, motivations for their behaviour and their needs going forward (Benjamin, 2013). Each person needs to listen to one another and practice active listening skills to demonstrate their understanding (Benjamin, 2013). Help the individuals identify what areas of their careers are important to them and find a commonality (Benjamin, 2013). During this facilitation, the individuals should create a plan that addresses the problems and solutions that meet their concerns (Benjamin, 2013). Once a plan has been discussed and all the individuals have agreed upon the plan, it is best to schedule a meeting in the future to see if the professional relationship has improved. (Benjamin, 2013)

An Example

(Brownlee, 2017)

Providing Constructive Feedback

Feedbacks are important for individuals because they shape our experiences, both positively and negatively. Feedbacks are essential aspects of any workplace as they help in the growth and development of the employees (Garvey, 2018). Feedbacks are of many types, but constructive feedbacks are most helpful as they foster a culture of development (Garvey, 2018) and provide suggestions for improvements. Constructive feedbacks effectively communicate the the positives and the negatives which boosts the morale of the employees and help them become confident. Feedbacks can be both positive and negative, but the negatives should be provided constructively. Giving feedbacks is an essential skill that every HR professional should have as it also helps in effectively handling and resolving difficult situations (Garvey, 2018).

Importance of Constructive Feedbacks: Organizations

  1. Increases employee motivation and engagement
  2. Fosters effective communication
  3. Supports continuous learning and development
  4. Increases company success and productivity
  5. Helps in handling uncomfortable situations constructively (McCannell, 2021) (Dontigney, 2017)

The Principles of Constructive Feedbacks

Constructive feedbacks provides a clear description of the behaviour/ actions of the person, along with providing suggestions for the improvements. Also, constructive feedbacks are delivered in a way that the other person understands it and doesn’t get de-motivated. There are some key principles that help provide constructive feedbacks:

  • Specific and Descriptive: The feedbacks should be clearly stated and evaluated according to the actions observed. The feedbacks should not be based on personal judgements and interpretations, and should also include suggestions for improvement (Principles of Effective Feedback, n.d.) (McCannell, 2021) (Garvey, 2018).
  • Focus on the Positives: Positive reinforcement helps in giving encouragement and  bringing change. Talking about the strengths first helps register and act upon the negatives effectively (Principles of Effective Feedback, n.d.) (Garvey, 2018) (Donovan, 2018)
  • Timely and Consistent: The feedback should be provided as soon as the action is observed in order to be effective. Consistent feedbacks helps in sustaining the productivity and improving the actions or the behaviours (Principles of Effective Feedback, n.d.) (Donovan, 2018)
  • Collaborative/Coaching: The feedback must not be based on assumptions and an effort should be made to relate the action with your own personal experience to make the receiver feel more connected. The feedback shouldn’t force the change but an effort should be made to collaboratively reach a solution and provide suggestions (Principles of Effective Feedback, n.d.) (McCannell, 2021).
  • Closing & Follow up: Before closing it’s important to summarise to make sure the receiver understood accurately and also, if required there should be a follow-up to observe the change (Principles of Effective Feedback, n.d.).

An Example

(Xenium HR, 2018)

Documenting the Conversations

“Documentation is the written and retained record of an employee’s employment events.” (Heathfield, 2021). Documentation helps HR keep a record of all the positive and negative incidents in the employment history of the employees. Documenting is legal in nature as it provides proof of employees behaviour in case of any mis-happenings and protects the organization from any legal actions (Heathfield, 2021). These written records not only help protect the organization, but also help to support employees promotions, pay raise, etc. (Heathfield, 2021).

Importance of Documenting Conversations

`1. Providing Warnings: Any sort of warnings be it written or verbal must be documented and kept in the employees HR’s file. This helps provide an evidence that all the rules were followed within an organization and it becomes especially crucial in case of employees termination. Incase the termination is challenged, the HR can provide the evidence to support the organizations action (Swan, 2016).

2. Mediating Conflicts: No workplace is perfect and there are chances of some clashes between the co-workers and these differences can create an uncomfortable situation in the workplace (Swan, 2016). The HR thus, must facilitate a discussion between the employees and try to mediate a solution. It is essential to document the complaints, behaviours and actions for further evidence and the document must also be attached to the employee’s personnel file (Swan, 2016).

3. Addressing Employee Complaints: It is important to record any sort of complaints or workplace issues brought up by the employees as it helps HR’s observe a pattern and take necessary action if required (Swan, 2016). The actions taken by HR thus cannot be challenged easily as he/she has proof to support their decisions.


It is important to use a proper system to store these documented conversations to make sure they don’t get lost (Swan, 2016). Using a document management system helps keep all the information in a folder, attached to specific employees. These can be stored for long periods of time and do not take much space as it is stored in the computer (Swan, 2016). Also, some confidential documents can be stored in the locker for safety reasons.

Further Resources for Managing Uncomfortable Situations in the Workplace

Most companies have available resources for how to deal with conflict within the workplace. Conflict and uncomfortable situations may be inevitable in a workplace (Scott, 2021). Within a company there are always going to be a wide range of diverse opinions and perspectives that could contribute to some exceedingly uncomfortable situations (Scott, 2021). Because of this, it’s helpful to utilise available resources on how to manage uncomfortable situations. Resources such as, human resources department, conflict training, focus groups, open-door policies, workplace law, company policies and employee handbooks (Scott, 2021) are some other resources and skills that are helpful in dealing with an uncomfortable situations.


Key Takeaways

  • Ignoring a conflicting/uncomfortable situation can be disastrous for an organization’s workplace environment and for the employees
  • Many skills can be mastered like, learning about the principles of communication, diversity management, open communication and approaching peacefully to better handle an uncomfortable situation
  • There are different roles of an HR and a manager in handling a conflicting situation
  • HR’s play a role of a facilitator to handle an uncomfortable situation
  • Providing constructive feedback can help resolve the issue better and boost employees morale
  • Documenting conversations is very important for many reasons


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Brownlee, D (2017, July 14). Facilitation Skills Training: Managing Difficult Meeting Personalities. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CbKB-yzDSOA

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