How to tackle a difficult conversation

by | Sep 6, 2016

 Achieve the best possible outcome from a difficult conversation

difficult conversation

Do you dread tacking a difficult converesation?

How do you tackle a difficult conversation with someone, such as a colleague in the workplace? Does it fill you with dread and make you feel anxious? Perhaps you see it as confrontation, ending in arguments, disputes and bad feelings. Rather than have that difficult conversation, would you rather avoid the issue, hoping it will go away?

Confront - to face, meet, or deal with a difficult situation or person

As professional women, if we don’t face up to a difficult conversation or situation, there are likely to be adverse effects.
  • The issue gnaws away at us
  • It causes resentful feelings, or an atmosphere
  • The relationship between those involved deteriorates
  • We make sarcastic comments alluding to the issue, instead of addressing it
  • We bottle up our feelings until we just spew it all out in anger
  • We are seen as someone who cannot deal with issues in a professional manner
  • It eats away at our self-confidence, unable to stand up for ourselves in the future

Read: How to Manage Your Emotions in Difficult Conversations

3 key suggestions to approach a difficult conversation

# 1 Preparation

Enter the conversation cool and prepared

Enter the conversation cool and prepared

Choose ONE issue to discuss. If you try to address more than one, it will dilute your point, and confuse the other person.  Be clear on what you want to achieve and the best possible outcome. Otherwise you won’t resolve the problem, and you may be seen as ranting. Choose the time and a quiet venue where you won’t be disturbed to have the difficult conversation as you want the other person’s full attention. Then write down all the points you want to make, again sticking to ONE issue.

#2 The Conversation

Don’t play the Blame Game. Avoid making accusations, as the other person is likely to feel defensive and respond by attacking you. Its much more effective to own your feelings and thoughts and use phrases such as -
I think
I feel
I am uncomfortable
I am unhappy
Be prepared to listen, without interrupting – however difficult that may feel. Then be curious and interested, asking the other person to explain if you don’t fully understand. It’s better not to make assumptions, as it can lead to misunderstandings. It’s important to be aware of your triggers – things that push your buttons, and not necessarily relevant to this situation. If that happens take a deep breath – and don’t react. If you should be met with accusations, or hostility, stay calm and try to listen to their side attentively. Empathise, but that doesn’t mean you have to agree. Only then put forward your side, in a calm way.

#3 The Outcome

Be prepared to negotiate in a way that you don’t leaving feeling defeated. At the end of the difficult conversation thank the other person for listening. This is more likely to encourage future positive and meaningful discussions. By practicing beforehand, and visualising a positive outcome, and following these guidelines you are greatly increasing your changes of achieving a positive outcome.

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Wendy Capewell Contributor
Wendy Capewell - BACP(accred) is qualified Counsellor and Psychotherapist. Initially working with individuals in a generalised practice for more than 10 years. She quickly recognised that many clients experienced problems in their relationships. As a result she started to specialise as a Relationship Specialist. Mainly working with couples on issues that affect their personal relationships. Although she also works with individuals too. The lack of effective communication can often be one of the key elements that affect relationships. The techniques in the article can be easily transferred to other situations.
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