How to Handle Difficult Conversations

Preparation Steps

Talking to people can resolve many different workplace issues.

But sometimes when people talk, things get worse. Emotions escalate, misunderstandings ensue, and relationships suffer.


Good preparation involves first being aware of 5 common mistakes managers make when they're involved in difficult conversations. 

Then you can prepare for a difficult conversation (4 steps)


Mistake 1- Making assumptions about the other person's behavior

This often involves confusing the impact of the issue with the intention of the other person. So "I felt angry" becomes "She did that to make me angry." This in turn spills over into the conversation as an accusation, generating resistance and defensiveness.

Mistake 2 - Being adamant about your own viewpoint

It's important to focus on your goal, but being adamant that you're right is not an attitude that will help the conversation progress. You need to be open to the other person's views.

Mistake 3 - Blaming the other person

Playing the "blame game" is counterproductive. Rather than encouraging people to accept responsibility, accusations provoke them to push back, turning the conversation into an argument.

Mistake 4 - Disregarding emotion

Difficult conversations aren't just about facts. They also involve emotion. Some managers think they have to ignore emotions in order to stay rational about the issue under discussion. But feelings are an integral part of difficult conversations. It's vital to acknowledge emotions before you can develop an empathic understanding of the other person.

Mistake 5 - Not acknowledging personal impact

Difficult conversations involve facing other people, but they can also involve facing how you view yourself. Some managers make the mistake of not acknowledging and preparing for this impact. For example, a defensive or accusatory reaction from someone can impact a manager's confidence and self-worth.

There are 4 stages to get prepared for a difficult conversation