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How to Handle Difficult Conversations

Getting the Right Mindset

Mediating disputes, delivering bad news, talking about performance, and counseling employees are all part of being an effective leader.


But these difficult conversations can be risky for managers who don't have the right mind-set.

So what is a mind-set? It's the logical thinking that determines how you interpret and respond to communication.

You need the appropriate mind-set if you're going to communicate effectively in a difficult conversation. This means not only managing your emotions but using them to your advantage.

An appropriate mind-set will help you communicate more effectively during a difficult conversation.

There are four qualities of an appropriate mind-set.

Quality 1


Demonstrating the quality:

  • Present the facts

  • Listen to the other side of the story

  • Don't assume the worst

  • Don't blame

  • Respond in terms of the goal


  • "This is what I know about the incident."

  • "I'm willing to listen to what you have to say."

  • "What I'd like to see happen is..."

  • "What do you think?"

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Quality 2


Demonstrating the quality:

  • Share your reasoning for having the conversation

  • Seek the other person's input and allow time for a response

  • Offer the other person a role in managing the issue being discussed and in reaching a solution


  • "I wanted to talk with you because..."

  • "What do you think you could do to prevent this from happening again?"

  • "What would you say precipitated this issue?"

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Quality 3


Demonstrating the quality:

  • Imagine the stressors the person might experience

  • Consider how you might respond compassionately

  • Share your own discomfort

  • Use "I" and "you" statements


  • "I can understand this is disappointing for you."

  • "I think you're probably feeling a little shocked."

  • "I feel badly about having to bring this up to you."

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Quality 4


Demonstrating the quality:

  • Actively listen to the other person

  • Acknowledge what the other person says

  • Use interjections

  • Indicate you care about reaching a positive solution


  • "If I understand what you've just said..."

  • "It seems like what you're saying is that..."

  • "I see."

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  • When you're preparing for a difficult conversation, it's imperative to examine your own attitude toward the conversation.

  • Your mind-set is the logical thinking that determines how you interpret and respond to communication.

  • The right mind-set will make it easier to communicate effectively and reach the goal of your conversation.


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