You face difficult situations every day in the workplace. Whether you’re working with a stubborn coworker, a pushy salesperson, or an angry customer, it is important to handle these situations professionally. Each situation is different and will require you to respond and communicate in a way that is appropriate for each situation. Although you can’t always avoid difficult situations, good communication skills will allow you to handle them in a better way.

Here are five possible situations you might face in the workplace, along with communication tips to help you handle each situation professionally:

1. Giving criticism
2. Receiving criticism
3. Delivering bad news
4. Saying “no”
5. Questioning


Giving criticism. Nobody is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. Keep this in mind as you face difficult situations in the workplace. It will help you to give criticism in a helpful or positive way. Although criticism sounds like a negative thing, it is necessary in order for honesty and excellence to exist at work.

For example, let’s say that your co-worker is filing orders in the wrong order. If you don’t criticize, or tell them what they are doing wrong, your co-worker will continue to do the work poorly.

It’s not always easy to give criticism. It feels uncomfortable to point out another person’s mistake because you don’t know how the person will react. The person you’re criticizing could be offended or angry that you pointed out their mistake. Follow these tips for giving criticism in a helpful or positive way:

1. Talk to the person in a private location so you don’t criticize them in front of others
2. Make eye contact
3. Make the criticism about the behavior, not the person
4. Offer advice on how to improve
5. End on a positive note or by giving a compliment

Receiving criticism. Sometimes being criticized is even harder than giving criticism. Think of criticism as a positive thing and try to learn from it rather than taking it as a negative or an insult. Follow these tips for receiving criticism and responding to it in a positive way:

1. Listen to what the person is telling you
2. Consider their advice
3. Avoid responding defensively or angrily
4. Thank them for their advice
5. Try to follow their advice the next time you have the opportunity

Not everyone you work with will be helpful or positive in the way they give criticism. You will likely experience people who criticize you in a way that seems offensive or insensitive. If this happens, remind yourself that they are probably just trying to help and accept their feedback. It’s important not to get upset and to respond in a respectful manner. If you find the offensive behavior continues, consider talking to the person or your supervisor about it.


Delivering bad news. Not many people enjoy delivering bad news. Although you never know exactly how the person will react, you do know that they won’t be happy about what you have to say. However, the way you deliver the news might help the person respond better to what you have to say. Here are 5 tips to help you deliver bad news:

1. Speak in a calm, clear voice
2. Give background information and explain why this happened
3. Show empathy
4. Offer solutions to make the situation better
5. Focus on the positive and talk about what possible good could come of this situation

Saying “no.” Have you ever been in a situation where you wanted to say “no” to someone, but instead you said “yes” simply because it was easier? Sometimes it’s tempting to do this because you’re afraid that saying “no” will disappoint the person. Other times, you say “yes” because the person you’re talking to pushed you into saying “yes.”


Learning to say “no” is a valuable skill in the workplace. It can help you stand up to a pushy salesperson or turn down a request to help with a project that you don’t have time to do. No matter who you’re saying “no” to, it’s important that you say it with confidence. Speaking confidently will prevent people from questioning your response or thinking there’s a chance they can get you to change your answer. If it helps you feel better about saying “no” you can justify your answer by explaining why you have to say “no.”

Questioning. In the workplace, people will have ideas that you don’t agree with. Sometimes it might seem easier to just let it go and move on. However, if you never question ideas, you might miss out on a better way of doing something.

When you decide to question an idea, it is important to do it in a polite, respectful way. Speak in a kind, calm voice and choose your words carefully. Try not to offend the person you are questioning so they feel comfortable responding to your challenge.

For example, instead of asking, “Why did you do that?” say, “I’m not sure I understand why you did it that way. Could you please explain your process to me?” Asking the question this way does not point the finger of blame, it simply shows that you’re trying to understand something.