Looking after your mental wellbeing at work

A supplementary guide for paralegals, business support staff in the Intellectual Property profession and those who manage them

Managing difficult conversations

By Rachel Culverwell, CITMA Paralegal, Keltie LLP

It is quite likely that at some point in your working life, you will need to talk to your manager, HR or other relevant work colleague about an issue that you feel uncomfortable discussing. This could be following an external event such as a bereavement, personal health concern or an internal issue such as a problem with another colleague or with your workload. This section is designed to help you manage these difficult conversations.

General principles on how to navigate your way through difficult conversations

Requesting a meeting allows you to prepare what you are going to say in advance and ensures you have time and privacy. If you can, check out your manager’s diary and suggest a few dates/times that suit both of you.

  • Make a list of all the points you would like to raise and any questions you would like to ask.
  • Make a note of how you are feeling and why you are feeling like this.
  • Make a list of possible solutions. This demonstrates that you have given these problems some thought and how they might be overcome in the future. Sometimes, if you are in great distress, especially if you are experiencing difficulties with your mental health or have a problem where you cannot see any easy solution, this might be hard to do. However, being able to talk it through with your manager will still be helpful.
  • Prepare an agenda for the meeting. This will ensure you stay on track and cover all the points you wish to raise.
  • Talk it through beforehand with a trusted friend or family member so that they can tell you how you are coming across and if you are being objective, if appropriate.
  • In certain situations, you may wish to have someone else with you in the meeting. Let your manager know in advance if this is the case so it is not a surprise when they turn up.
  • Practise self-compassion. Many of us will find having these kinds of conversations very difficult, for example, if we have bad associations, maybe from our school days or other work situations, or find it hard to talk about our own needs or feelings, especially with someone in a position of authority.
  • If you are feeling nervous, take a few deep breaths to calm your system down. Counting backwards from 100 or even doing something like a sudoku puzzle can also be very helpful.
  • Stay focused. Focus on yourself and your needs rather than comparing yourself to others to ensure solutions are right for you and your current situation.
  • Stay calm. Although you may be feeling stressed, it is important not to get too emotional so that you can stay focused and ensure that all your points are discussed.
  • Keep your breathing steady and speak slowly. This will help you maintain your composure and increase your confidence.
  • Refer to the agenda and/or any notes you might have made. This will help make sure you cover all you wish to say.
  • Be honest. Convey how you feel, including any outside pressures or stresses.
  • Arrange a follow-up meeting if your manager doesn’t already suggest it.
  • Look after yourself. Having these kinds of meetings takes courage. Make sure you factor in some time to be especially kind to yourself, including giving yourself a big pat on the back for doing it.
  • Keep a record of how the meeting went and suggested actions/outcomes.
  • You may want to send an email to the person you had the meeting with outlining the main points and what was agreed.


Tariq is regularly given tasks by his fee earner that need to be completed in a timeframe that is often completely unrealistic. His current project is a cost estimate which needs to be ready for sending to the client within two days. This deadline doesn’t account for the time it takes to receive the relevant information from the associates, calculate the costs and present the data in a format ready for sending out.

Tariq is starting to feel very stressed by this and it is impacting his family life as his partner is feeling increasingly unsupported with help with their two small children. After a visit to the GP for recurring migraines, which the GP has put down to stress, Tariq arranges to see his fee earner to explain the situation and the impact it is having on his health and home life.

Tariq is very nervous about this as he expects the fee earner to tell him that this kind of stress is part of the job. He prepares well for the meeting and manages to stay calm throughout, explaining the situation and why it is so difficult.

The fee earner was a bit shocked at first as they had only been looking at the situation from their own perspective and felt that Tariq was coping as he always managed to get things done so well. They were able to see it from Tariq’s point of view and acknowledge why it might be difficult. The fee earner also seemed willing to own how their behaviour in leaving things to the last minute could have an impact on Tariq. They had not really taken this into account before. Together the two of them managed to agree on a satisfactory way forward.



They agreed to build in regular reviews so the situation didn’t build up again, which given the nature of the work was very likely. Tariq was greatly relieved and appreciated the fee earner’s willingness to listen and take account of the pressure they unwittingly put on him. They both came away from the meeting with a greater understanding of each other.

Further information and resources

Many of the suggestions cited are from:

How To Tell Your Boss You Have Too Much Work | [Internet]. [cited 2023 Jan 15]. Available from:

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