In a recent virtual workshop, a brave participant asked in front of his entire team, “What happens when we have to communicate a message we don’t agree with?”

Regardless of the size of your company, the industry, or your location around the world, at some point you will have to communicate a policy or message that you personally don’t support.

I’m not talking about a decision you find unjust or illegal – rather, it’s a message you know will be difficult for your audience to accept, or a decision you would have made differently had you been in charge.

As we all prepare for conversations around going back to the office, here is the process you can use to communicate a difficult message.


1. Focus on why

Before communicating the message or policy, take a step back to frame why the issue is important. Share an anecdote or story that highlights what’s at stake:

“Last week, something happened…and it made me realize…”


2. Acknowledge the elephant in the room

This American colloquialism means to address what’s on everyone’s minds. If you know your audience will be hesitant to accept your idea, use language such as the below:

“I know some of you might be thinking…”


3. Empathize with the counter-argument

Validate what they’re thinking, which shows respect for their opinions.

“If I were in your position, I would feel exactly the same way…”


4. Find common ground

Show how this message or policy fits into a larger perspective that everyone can agree is important:

“While we might not agree on this policy, we can all agree that this issue needs to be addressed…”


5. Make time to listen

As opposed to just stating the new policy and then closing the meeting, ask for feedback and listen to your team’s concerns:

“I know you’re not happy about this. What specific concerns do you have?”


As we prepare for new adjustments in our workflow, use this outline to show empathy and listen to your team. This will cushion the difficult message and help you connect with your colleagues on a more authentic level.