By Daniel Hunter

British workers find it tougher to have a difficult conversation at work than at home, according to the Chartered Management Institute (CMI).

The research found that employees find it hardest to talk about pay at work (33%), followed by a colleague’s inappropriate behaviour (31%) and then feedback on poor performance (30%). This compares to personal topics like sex (19%), relationship break ups (17%) and money (16%), which the UK public feels are less hard to tackle.

The workplace is not only the setting for people’s most difficult conversations, it’s also where they happen most frequently. More than half of workers (51%) said they have to deal with a difficult conversation at work at least once a month or more.

Despite the regularity of awkward workplace exchanges, CMI’s survey found employees and too many managers don’t have coping strategies. During difficult conversations at work half of us mumble, stutter or trip over our words, whilst 40% of us clam up, and 41% let emotions take over from facts. 56% admitted taking things too personally during these exchanges.

The emotional upheaval of difficult conversations also takes its toll on workers. The data show that knowing a difficult conversation is coming makes two-thirds of respondents (66%) feel stressed or anxious. More than one in 10 (11%) said they slept badly or had nightmares in the lead up to a tricky work conversation. Yet, despite the impact of these awkward discussions on leaders and the workforce, over 80% of the population have never had any training at all on how to tackle difficult conversations at work.

Petra Wilton, Director of Strategy and External Affairs at CMI, said: “Our survey findings reveal that difficult conversations are really taking their toll on workers. When it comes to our home life we often rely on friends and family to support us with tricky discussions. At work, with no advice or training, it can feel like tiptoeing through a minefield. It’s no wonder 61% of people told us they would like to learn how to manage workplace conversations with more confidence.”

“At CMI we want to help the UK’s workforce to feel calm and in control. That’s important whether you’re negotiating a pay rise with your boss, or talking to a colleague about their performance not hitting the mark. Managers are the lynchpin of so many businesses that they are often at the centre of these discussions. And, it’s not just the most junior or newest managers we want to help. This is an issue that cuts across all areas and all levels of business.”