Top 10 Ways to Handle Difficult Conversations

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Difficult Conversations

Very few people enjoy confrontation of any kind. Most people do anything they can to avoid it.

The fallout from conversations gone wrong is not pretty – trust and intimacy suffer, while resentment and misunderstanding build. But it is possible to improve the way we handle our most difficult professional and personal conversations. Please note that these should be handled face-to-face.

Emotional intelligence is considered one of the most important personality traits for success. Skilled conflict resolution can make the difference between a toxic workplace or uncomfortable living situation into a harmonious one. Learning how to handle confrontation and conflict in a compassionate manner without defensiveness is challenging, yet necessary. Basic skills will get you far. We have listened to the experts and come up with tips to help you get better at handling difficult situations.

Thirteen Tips To Handle a Difficult Conversation

Consider the following ten tips to help you prepare for your next face-to-face confrontation:

  1. Have the conversation as soon as possible. Putting it off can just build resentment and misunderstanding.
  2. Talk in person. From a workplace conflict with a co worker, to friends or a family member, texting is no way for handling difficult conversations. Find a coffee shop, sit down, and get to work!
  3. Set an agenda. Lay out the problem to be discussed, indicate that you want to hear the other person’s perspective and to speak your own, and that you’d like problem-solving to follow that.
  4. Listen first. Until people feel heard and safe, they won’t have the mind-space to hear you.
  5. Cultivate an attitude of discovery and curiosity. People typically spend only about 10% of difficult conversations on inquiry and 90% on advocating a position. A better balance leads to a better outcome.
  6. Strive to understand what people are thinking, feeling and needing – not just saying. A conversation is different than a performance review.
  7. Keep the focus on understanding what is happening between the two of you, not on “winning” or being right.
  8. Don’t ignore feelings. They are often at the heart of all difficult conversations—and they matter.
  9. Stay centered, supportive, curious and committed to problem-solving. Your attitude will greatly influence what you say.
  10. Notice when you become off-center. Breathe. Choose to return to yourself and your purpose.
  11. Return to asking questions about the other’s point of view if the conversation becomes adversarial.
  12. Check your body language. Often during a difficult conversation we cross our arms and turn away, shutting of connection. remain open, keep eye contact and listen.
  13. Be persistent in your efforts to keep the conversation constructive. Create action items for moving forward.

By taking these steps, you will become more adept at handling difficult conversations at work, at home, or anywhere, setting you and others up for success!

If your teams and leaders are struggling on how to deliver a difficult change or need help preparing for a difficult one-on-one conversation, training and coaching support can be a tremendous help. We specialize in emotional intelligence and conflict resolution skill building. Give us a call at

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