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Martin Baker

Clear Lessons & The Charity Learning Consortium


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VIDEO: how to prepare for difficult conversations

How to avoid firing off emails in the heat of the moment.

Anyone who’s about to go into a difficult conversation has to step back and become a third party observer of what’s going on. You have to take the personal emotion out of it.

You have to be ready to have an adult conversation that is going to be emotive - and probably more emotive for the person you’re bringing this conversation to, because they’re unaware you’re coming. You’re the one who’s prepared. If you go into it emotively, it’s only going to escalate.

Approaching difficult conversations in a way that is a learning for both people and expecting a positive outcome is the way to do it.

What I do is I step back and I allow myself some space to think. Then when I come to the conversation, it’s about the facts, it’s about what’s right or wrong, and what’s happened and I’ve removed the personal emotion from the conversation. I haven’t gotten rid of it, it’s still there but I’m coming at it from a very adult, non-emotive place and my integrity is intact.

One of the most interesting, difficult conversations I’ve had was with a colleague who thought I was building an empire around individuals who are LGBT, and that was absolutely not the case. When I heard this, I was very upset. I could have in that moment picked up the phone or shot off the email.

Instead, when we were having a conversation about something else, I confronted her. It was a very difficult conversation for both of us, but we are probably even closer colleagues than ever. I didn’t put my own integrity at risk.

It was a great learning point for my colleague. I said, “how would you feel if I had said that you were building a female kingdom?” She looked at me and said, “you’re absolutely right.”

I think approaching difficult conversations in a way that is a learning for both people and expecting a positive outcome is the way to do it. You also have to be able to move on from that point. If you say you’re going to move on, and you say you have respect for a person, then you have to prove that and that’s what we’ve done. 

Watch the video for the full story here... 

Mark McLane is the Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Wellness for M&G Prudential. Previously the Head of Global Diversity and Inclusion for Barclays PLC, he’s a commissioner for the UK Equalities and Human Rights Commission. He has been recognised on the UK LGBT power list, the Financial Times 100 LGBT business leaders and named in the top 50 global diversity executives by The Economist.

This video is taken from the Clear Lessons video learning library. Clear Lessons is absolutely free for charities and anyone working or volunteering in the third sector. Corporate organisations can purchase a licence, which supports free access for charities. Find out more at

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