How to Tackle Tough Conversations

When conflict resolution appears to be a lost art of conversation, it’s important to remember that even difficult conversations can be very impactful for both personal and professional relationships. It is with that goal in mind that Rebecca Maxwell shared her six tips for tackling tough conversations.

1. Start with the End in Mind

Before starting a difficult conversation is essential to think about the end goal of the conversation. What is the expected outcome? What is to be gained as a result of the tough conversation?
By asking these things, it can help you to establish some ground rules around the conversation. For instance, difficult conversations fair better in a private setting. How can you structure your time for you and that individual to discuss the important matter in private?
You want to pick a time and place that works for everyone. Beginning with the end in mind is about bridging that gap about respecting one another before the conversation even begins. That can go a long way.
“Fight for the things you care about, but do it in a way that leads others to join you.”
– Ruth Bader Ginsburg

2. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

When you prepare your points, you want to make sure you’re getting across your points clearly, objectively, and with as little emotion as possible. That’s not to say you should sound like a robot, but you shouldn’t let your feelings dominate the conversation.
Some things to consider discussing:

  • What is your story? Your narrative?
  • What is YOUR perspective on the situation?
  • What is your evidence that helps align your perspective?

Hopefully, the goal of starting the difficult conversation is not to win but to share viewpoints so both sides can be validated and discussed openly and honestly, without emotion, manipulation, or sarcasm.
Difficult conversations can be incredibly powerful for understanding, so it’s important to approach them from what can be gained through understanding each other’s perspectives. This, of course, is easier said than done, but if you focus on your preparation, you’re less apt to become emotional during the conversation.

3. Be Objective

When you share your perspective on the situation, remember to deal with facts. What are some objective statements that you can make about your perspective that may share your opinion? What is the best way to get that objective statement across?
When we speak objectively, we keep an even-keeled nature, which puts the other person at ease. After all, the point of a difficult conversation is to share challenging thoughts, ideas, or experiences. Handle it with care, dignity, and facts.
If you can’t remain objective, it may be the wrong time to have the conversation. Don’t be afraid to step away if that’s the case and reserve the conversation for a later time.

4. Actively Listen

After you have stated your perspective, it’s vital to actively listen to the other person. Conversations may begin with speaking, but they are moved forward through listening. Make sure to ask thoughtful questions, don’t interrupt, and remain objective about the other person’s viewpoint.
People have different opinions based on their lived experiences, and that should be respected no matter how foreign their ideas may be. Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Think about why they may have those opinions and ask them what helped them form those beliefs.
By asking questions of understanding, you’ll maintain a healthy and respectful dialogue.

5. Speak to Be Heard

Use supportive statements. Speak from your perspective and take the other person out of your opinions. Speak calmly, firmly, and directly using “I” statements:

  • I feel…
  • I believe…
  • I wonder…
  • My perspective on the matter…

By speaking your truth, your words will be less abrasive to the person listening and make it easier for them to hear your message, thoughts, ideas, and beliefs.

6. Restore the Relationship

The point of difficult conversations is to move forward, which cannot happen if, in the process of the difficult talk, you attack each other’s dignity. If the conversation has become heated or in any way disrespectful, own your part of the conversation that wasn’t working and apologize.
When you begin by owning your faults in a situation, people are more likely to reciprocate those feelings if they are self-aware. If they aren’t speaking up, don’t be afraid to ask politely if there is anything they regret in the conversation and state clear intentions not to let the difficult conversation affect your relationship.

BONUS Tip: Deflect, Bridge & Redirect

If a difficult conversation comes up and you feel it’s not the right time or place, try using this bonus tip: deflect, bridge & redirect.
If someone asks you a controversial question, answer it as simply as you can, bridge to another topic, and redirect with a different question. For instance, if someone brings up politics, you could answer simply, bridge the topic by bringing up another topic like television, and ask a question about a specific program.

Difficult Conversations Have a Purpose: Don’t Lose Yours!

No one likes difficult conversations, but if done correctly, it can lead to a profound understanding of each other’s point of view. That can lead to a better relationship professionally or personally, as well as mutual respect despite your differences of opinion.
Next time you need to have a difficult conversation, remember these six tips for tackling difficult conversations.

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