difficult conversation

10 Tricks To Make That Difficult Conversation Easier

You’re familiar with that awful feeling that sits in your gut just after you’ve realised that you need to have a difficult talk with someone. It may be that they hurt you, let you down or made a mess. Perhaps they’ve done something wrong or out of line and it’s fallen to you to address the situation. Maybe you’ve got to take something to your leader or boss and you’re scared of how he or she will respond.

If you’re human you’ve been there! Joe Lalonde a friend of mine who also blogs wrote about this in a recent post called It’s time to have that hard conversation, which I strongly recommend. There are also two other books which are worth digesting in order to feel empowered and peaceful instead of anxious and sick. They are Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time by Susan Scott and Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, Second Edition by Kerry Patterson.

As you can see much has been written on this for you, but if you wanted a bullet list of helpful insight, here is what I’ve found tremendously resourceful over the years.

10 Thoughts to make a difficult conversation easier

1. It’s just another conversation.

Keeping on the theme of these two books – don’t think about it as anything more than a conversation between two people. You have conversations everyday, this is no different. Drop the difficult out of the difficult conversation you have to have.

2. It’s way worse in your head than in real life.

It won’t be as difficult as you think it will be. The response from the other is unlikely to be as bad as it is in your head and the repercussions will likely not play out to the severity you have pictured they will. Especially if you do the following.

3. Don’t be accusatory.

A conversation is two people meeting to discuss something. Don’t go in all guns blazing ‘You did this to me …’ that likely will enable your fears to be realised. Instead use this simple phrase which opens so many doors ‘I feel …’

4. Interrogate reality.

What is it you really want to say? This is essential in making a difficult conversation worthwhile. There have been so many times when people have come to me and blasted me for 25 minutes only to realise in the last 5 what they actually wanted to talk about. Spend time before you fire shots working out what it is you really want to be heard on.

5. Work out the key themes and represent them in single words.

Once you’ve grasped the reality you want to enter into and invite the other into, define some key terms that will anchor the conversation to the things you need to say. That way you will be able to share all you want and talk about everything without feeling like you drifted away from what is important. You may want to talk to your boss about a pay rise, So pay rise would be the key term, because of ‘equality’, ‘reward’ and ‘longevity’. Take in these four words and you’re set to clearly communicate.

6. Define the win.

What do you want to get out of the conversation? Know that and be crystal clear on that before you enter into the conversation.

[Tweet “Know what you want out of a difficult conversation before you begin.”]

7. Make it about the cause.

If you go into a difficult conversation and spend that time talking about poor old you, you won’t grow in another’s respect or admiration. If however you go into a difficult conversation and share how you feel and the affect this is having on the cause you are both committed to, this holds far more currency in both being heard and finding a solution.

8. Be kind and be gentle.

It’s the wisest thing you can do as it will defuse hostility and usher in peace.

9. Make sure you leave nothing that needs to be said unsaid.

It has taken me years to get to this point, but very rarely now days do I ever leave a difficult conversation and think, I wish I’d have said that, but didn’t. Say everything that needs to be said, sometimes you don’t get another conversation and sometimes that which you didn’t say is the most important thing.

10. Do it now.

I know you don’t want to, but you gain nothing and risk loosing by waiting. The quicker you can have the conversation, the quicker you will restore peace, move forward and not limit the other person.

[Tweet “A difficult conversation needn’t be horrible if you approach it the right way.”]

A difficult conversation can be a gruelling experience but if you prepare yourself and engage in the way I have outlined above, you’ll find peace by the end of the process and hopefully the person you’re speaking to will as well.

What tricks have you discovered to make that difficult conversation easier? Please “LEAVE A REPLY” below.

Comments 8

  1. Great tips Ralph, I try to place positive feedback into the difficult conversations I have with my staff. It seems to help.

    1. Thanks Dan. That’s a great call! So often all people hear is the negative, so being intentionally positive is awesome!

  2. Great article! Great because I LOVE top 10 lists! And great because the tips for having that difficult conversation is right on point and I will remember to use them in the future. Especially the tip about leaving nothing unsaid. For some strange reason, that seems to be the hardest one for me.

    1. Thanks so much Civilla, that’s really encouraging. I find it’s always worth pausing at the close of those conversations to do a self check ‘have I said it all?’

  3. Also it is really important if possible to have someone else with you for accountability. it stops the ‘he said, she said’ stuff. Great thoughts Ralph please keep blogging.

    1. That’s a good idea Neil, especially concerning really high stakes conversations! thanks so much, very encouraging!

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