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9 Great Solutions to Difficult Conversations

Aug 17, 2007
What makes difficult conversations difficult? Difficult conversations arise in our daily lives. What makes them difficult is that they tend to be the most emotional ones.

Emotions make us feel awkward and out of place. They make us feel very uncomfortable. We are very concerned with how our words will affect the person that we are speaking to. It is basically because we do not know how to approach a particular topic with someone. Realizing that helps you see the first step you need to take in order to hold a difficult conversation.

1. Practice matters

Think what you are going to say and try it out in your head first of all. That will give you some idea about how you will sound in this conversation.

2. Get your tone right

Perhaps the best way to start a difficult conversation is to acknowledge that it is difficult! So few people remember to do that and it can really help. Just think about it - if you know someone really does not want to tell you this and they feel awkward about it, but they feel they need to tell you for your sake - wouldn't you be more receptive?

3. Be Honest

Tell the person you're talking to that you will be honest and that you would like them to be honest in return. That helps to make people feel safe in airing their true thoughts. That is the best way to have a successful conversation - difficult or not.

4. Be Attentive

Listen when the other person is talking. If you do not understand what they are thinking and feeling you won't get to know why the situation arose that needed this difficult conversation. That will have you right back to Square one in double quick time.

5. Pause to Think

Think before you speak - especially when reacting to what the other person says. They may be defensive, and if you react in anger, you'll make things worse.

6. Keep Calm

Keep in mind your aim for having this conversation in the first place. If you get angry and the person you are talking to feels attacked and becomes defensive - what will you have achieved?

7. Be tactful

If you are talking to someone about a problem they have caused, keep in mind that people rarely cause a problem on purpose. They may be quite unaware of the problem and your comments may come like a bolt from the blue.

8. Empathy is Appreciated

Show empathy with how the other person might be feeling. Once you have broached the difficult topic, give the other person time and space to respond to you. If they have to bottle up their thoughts and feelings they will just be concentrating on that and they won't concentrate on what you are saying.

Also, they may become bitter and resentful. That's not good if you want something constructive to come out of this situation.

9. Give Feedback

Try the sandwich approach. This is often used in work situations where you need an employer to improve in some aspect of their performance. This technique means telling the person something they do well:

"I really like the way you ______."

Then you tell them the thing you want them to improve. Lastly, you finish on a positive note:

"I'm sure that with the way you ______ you'll be able to

That is just an example, but you get the idea. What you need to so is be clear about what you want to achieve in your conversation and keep in mind also the feelings of the other person at all times. Make sure you both are able to get out of the conversation with your dignity intact. Difficult conversations do not need to be difficult!
About the Author
Peter Murphy is a peak performance expert. He recently produced a very popular free report: 10 Simple Steps to Developing Communication Confidence. Apply now because it is available only at: conversation starters
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