Let's Talk - Having A Difficult Conversation Well

Let's Talk - Having A Difficult Conversation Well

As we enter the start of National Conversation Week 2018 (19-25 March) we are focusing on how to prepare for those face to face conversations we might find a little more difficult than others and how to have them well.

In a world of ever increasing reliance on electronic communication (text, email, messages, social media, etc) sometimes the art of spoken conversation can sometimes be daunting, especially when conflict arises. While conflict can be difficult we can learn how to handle it effectively and have those difficult conversations well. 


Here are some of our hint’s and tips to help you with those conversations we all need to have from time to time, be they personally or professionally:

 1.   Raising the Issue

How you raise the issue can determine whether the conversation is handled well or becomes difficult. Consider:

  • Time, Place, Tone – private room, sitting down, allow time, be amicable – Do you have a few minutes? I’d like to talk to you about something. Let’s take a coffee in my office
  • Impartiality – name / describe the situation / topic as an impartial, third person would – I want to discuss how our morning routines have been working lately
  • Invite collaborative problem solving – Here’s how I see things working out? What do you think we should do? What’s going to work best for us both?
  • Observation – describe behaviours / situations, be specific, do not blame or judge – I noticed that when you came into work 15 minutes late 3 times last week.
  • Impact – describe how the behaviour / situation has affected you / others, it may be helpful to include your feelings here – I feel frustrated, when people are late for work, as it means Jane has to answer the phones and deal with enquiries on her own and then everyone ends up getting behind at the start of the day.
  • Ask open questions

 2.   Check understanding

It’s important to check our own and other’s interpretation of events / situations / words used to make sure we all have the same understanding.

  •  Observe – I noticed that you haven’t said much in meetings lately
  • Interpretation – So I thought that maybe you weren’t happy with something that was going on
  • Open question – how are meetings going for you at the moment?

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3.   Reshape the Story

Our story is how we see a situation. When things become difficult we often fail to see the story from anyone else’s viewpoint. It can be helpful to get people to shift their view and consider an alternative story or viewpoint. So rather than I’m right and your wrong thinking you could try to: 

  • Help people expand their story to include other perspectives eg how they think others might be thinking / feeling, what they contributed to the situation and what might be missing from their story
  • Look for exceptions and alternatives - times when the current difficulties did not exist / dominate the situation and things they appreciate about each other / the situation
  • Reframe negatives – eg when someone says I’m totally fed up with all the noise from next door you could reframe and say So you’d like more peace and quiet. This helps people shift focus from the past and complaining to the future and problem solving.

 4.   Know when to get Support

Sometimes, despite our best efforts we need some extra support / outside help to have those difficult conversations and when you do you could try: