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How to Handle Difficult Conversations

During difficult conversations, challenges may emerge when the other person doesn't engage in dialog, the  conversation takes a destructive direction, or you become challenged by your own emotions. 

See what strategies you can use to review the strategies for dealing with difficult conversation challenges.

Challenge 1

A person doesn't engage in dialog.

This can be very frustrating for you and equally difficult to manage. You can't make a connection if the person refuses to meaningfully respond to you.


The person you are talking to may be responding with simple answers such as "OK," or "I agree." But you may

notice that the individual is paying more attention to what's going on outside the room, or staring down at a folder or document on the desk, while ignoring what you have to say.


When you deal with a person who won't engage with you, an effective strategy is to comment on the person's

reaction and take control of the situation by asking questions. If the person is distracted by something else, make a comment about it. If the person ignores you completely, explain in a neutral tone how this makes you feel. You can use questions to probe the other person's point of view and to prompt justification from the person.

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Common Challenges

Challenge 2

The conversation takes a destructive direction.

When this happens, the person you're talking with diverts the conversation from its original direction by claiming to be right, making accusations, or assigning blame. These directions are all equally damaging for conversations.

The strategy for getting it back on track is to reframe unhelpful statements made by the person you're talking with. You can do this by changing unhelpful statements into helpful ones to facilitate creating progress during the conversation.

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Challenge 3

You're challenged by your own emotions.

This may happen when you're criticized during the conversation. People normally have two automatic responses to criticism: respond angrily or respond defensively. These are also known as fight or flight reactions.


It's also important to manage your response to criticism when you're challenged by your own emotions. If you find that you're about to react angrily or defensively to criticism during a conversation, you should identify what your emotions are. You should also avoid responding too soon to criticism. 

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There are several challenges that you may encounter in a difficult work-related conversation. These challenges can include situations in which the other person doesn't engage in the dialog, the conversation takes a destructive direction, or you become challenged by your own emotions.

  • To deal with a person who doesn't engage, you can comment on the person's reaction and take control by asking questions.

  • If a conversation takes a destructive direction, you reframe unhelpful statements.


  • And if you become challenged by your own emotions during a conversation, you can create validation and you manage your response to criticism.



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