Are you avoiding a difficult conversation? It might be difficult because of the emotions involved or because you don’t feel in control or because you’re at risk of losing something.

Here are 10 tips to help make that difficult conversation a successful conversation.

1. Have a ‘game plan’

It’s a good idea to have a ‘game plan’ or framework for the conversation before you start. Without a plan you are likely to jump feet first into an accusation and force the other person into a defensive reaction. Setting the wrong tone at the beginning means you’ve lost before you’ve started.

The framework should look something like this.

  1. Start the conversation by setting the right tone.
  2. Clearly state the specific issue with examples.
  3. Ask the other person for their understanding of the issue.
  4. Agree a way forward.

2. Identify the goal

Without prejudging the conversation or jumping to conclusions have a goal that reflects the outcome that you would like.

3. Be in the right place for the right time

You need to create the best environment for each conversation. That might be in private, or with a third party or even in a public place if you want to constrain how someone reacts. It’s also a good idea to set the length of time for the meeting – too long and the conversation will deviate, too short and you may not reach a resolution.

4. Separate the issue from the person

Before you have ‘the talk’ separate in your mind the issue from the person. Make the conversation about what was done and not who they are. If someone feels personally attacked they will close down.

5. Stay in control

Keep the conversation on track to reach your goal and don’t allow yourself to be sidetracked. If the other person raises a different issue that is also important agree to meet at a later time to discuss it.

6. Understand their point of view

Try to see the issue from the other persons perspective. The issue may look very different from where they see it. Regularly summarise for the other person what you believe they have said. This allows them to correct anything that you have misunderstood.

7. Be aware of the emotional temperature

Words are the smaller part of communication. Listen for the tone and emotion behind the words. Watch what the other person’s body and facial expressions are saying.

If the emotional level of either party is making good communication difficult then take a break for 10 minutes and then start where you left off.

8. Challenge ‘communication stoppers’

Don’t allow communication stoppers to go unchallenged. Anger, silence, joking and deflection are just some of the ways people avoid confrontation. Explain that what they are doing is not allowing you to have a productive conversation that could find an agreed way forward.

9. Use all of your communication skills

Use all of your communication skills effectively – your words, your silence, language, body language and voice. For example, don’t just ask a question – use an open question to start the other person talking, or a probing question to get beneath the superficial, or a closed question to confront an issue.

10. Find the ‘win-win’

Trying to win the argument is the quickest way to losing. Look for the ‘win-win’ in the way forward. If the other person can see how they benefit, even if it’s only in the long run, they will also own the decision.


Having difficult conversations isn’t fun but it can be rewarding and by using these 10 tips you can make the process easier on everyone. So don’t delay any longer and set a time to have that conversation.

© Business Set Free Ltd 2013


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