Articles and Case Studies

Tips for tricky conversations

09 Dec 2020

Deflated hospital docs walk down corridor

Junior doctor Members have recently asked us for advice on whether they must do as directed by their employer during a health crisis. As an important part of the response involves having a potentially difficult conversation, we provided some helpful tips on how to approach a discussion with a senior colleague in our Diplomacy in a hierarchy webinar on 2 September 2020.

Dr Kiely Kim facilitated a panel, sharing practical advice with real examples and answering participants’ questions on how to effectively navigate a disagreement with a co-worker, whatever their position might be.

Here’s a snapshot of their top take-home messages.

Dr Noel Collins 

Dr Noel Collins

These kinds of dilemmas can be challenging, but difficult conversations are often really important ones. Be kind to yourself. It’s like any type of competency or procedure. There’s no way you’re going to be a master at this, doing it for the first time. A supportive friend in a crisis is a powerful intervention on its own. Try your best to maximise your friend’s autonomy in solution-focused plans – discuss some options and work on them collaboratively. Remember, what’s right for them at this time may not be what’s right for you in similar circumstances. They may approach things differently, so be respectful of individual differences.


Dr Rachel Ryan

Dr Rachel Ryan
Obstetrician and Gynaecologist

Find some way to document these kinds of conversations… I always like to send an email, and I usually try and say to someone, “Okay, well I’ll send an email with those suggestions or the plan we discussed”… and that (hopefully in a not very threatening way) gives you a permanent written record of the conversation having taken place that both of you have electronically.




Claudine Watson-Kyme
Manager, Cases and Advisory Services, MDA National

Identify and plan for any interaction to make sure it’s in an appropriate setting and at a time when everyone’s prepared, and they haven’t been rushed or ambushed… Avoid having conversations in public spaces… not only for the privacy of the people involved in the conversation, but also if you’re talking about patients.


These are some of the main tips participants said they intend to use for a future difficult conversation with a senior colleague:

  • Prepare, including:
    • go in with a solution rather than just a complaint
    • be honest with yourself about the issue at hand.


  • Realise when it’s best to diplomatically end a discussion, e.g. by saying, “I can see this conversation’s not going well. Let’s leave it for the moment and talk about it some other time”.


Want more?

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View the full webinar recording at


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Listen to the pre-session podcast for more strategies at

Communication with Colleagues, Confidentiality and Privacy, Doctors Health and Wellbeing, Employment Essentials, Practice Management, Anaesthesia, Dermatology, Emergency Medicine, General Practice, Intensive Care Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Ophthalmology, Pathology, Practice Manager Or Owner, Psychiatry, Radiology, Sports Medicine, Surgery, Physician, Geriatric Medicine, Cardiology, Plastic And Reconstructive Surgery, Radiation Oncology, Paediatrics


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Dr Nick Coatsworth is an expert in health policy, public administration and a practising infectious diseases physician. He held a national role in the Australian response to COVID-19 as Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Australia, becoming one of the most recognised medical spokespeople during the pandemic. Nick engaged the Australian community through a variety of media platforms most notably as the spearhead of the national COVID-19 vaccination campaign. Dr Micheal Gannon, Obstetrician & Gynaecologist, sits down with Dr Nick Coatsworth to discuss Nick's medical career journey, and what insights and advice he has for junior doctors. MDA National would like to acknowledge the contributions of MDA National staff, Members, friends and colleagues in the production of the podcast and note that this work is copyright. Apart from any use permitted under applicable copyright law, you may not reproduce the content of this podcast without the permission of MDA National. This podcast contains generic information only, is intended to stimulate thought and discussion, and doesn’t account for requirements of any particular individual. The content may contain opinions which are not necessarily those of MDA National. We recommend that you always contact your indemnity provider when you require specific advice in relation to your insurance policy or medico-legal matters. MDA National Members need to contact us for specific medico-legal advice on freecall 1800 011 255 or email We may also refer you to other professional services.


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