Top 10 Ways to Handle Difficult Conversations

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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. Texting is no way to have difficult conversations. Consider the following ten tips to help you prepare for your next face-to-face confrontation:

  1. 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.
  2. Listen first. Until people feel heard and safe, they won’t have the mind-space to hear you.
  3. 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.
  4. Strive to understand what people are thinking, feeling and needing – not just saying
  5. Keep the focus on understanding what is happening between the two of you, not on “winning” or being right.
  6. Don’t ignore feelings. They are often at the heart of all difficult conversations—and they matter.
  7. Stay centered, supportive, curious and committed to problem-solving. Your attitude will greatly influence what you say.
  8. Notice when you become off-center. Breathe. Choose to return to yourself and your purpose.
  9. Return to asking questions about the other’s point of view if the conversation becomes adversarial.
  10. Be persistent in your efforts to keep the conversation constructive.

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. Give us a call at

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