5 keys to handling tough conversations

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Most of us don’t like to have difficult conversations. It can be very stressful and make us feel uncomfortable. But, it’s important to have these conversations sometimes. We need to talk about tough topics to:

  • Solve problems
  • Fix mistakes
  • Make relationships better

Examples of hard talks:

  • Handling an angry customer
  • Discussing a poor product or service
  • Breaking bad news (like firing someone)
  • Disagreeing with someone who has a different opinion
  • Saying that you made a mistake

Having conversations that are difficult can be stressful. Here are five tips to help you manage it:

  1. Hold on to your emotions

    It’s important to stay calm and rational. Don’t get angry. Let the other person talk first and listen. Speak in a normal voice. Don’t yell or shout.

  2. Remember your purpose

    Before you start, make sure you know what you want to accomplish. Do you want to come to an agreement? Do you want to give feedback? Keep your goal in mind and stay on track.

  3. Listen and show understanding

    Listen carefully to the other person. Try to understand their opinion. Show that you value their experience by showing that it is important.

  4. Stay on topic

    Talk only about the issue at hand. try not to bring up other topics or past mistakes. Always be respectful.

  5. End nicely

    Try to end the conversation in a way that both of you understand. Even if you don’t agree, it’s okay. Use the language in the video below to finish the conversation politely:


Expressions for conceding a point in English, Jennifer ESL
 
Article updated January 31, 2023.
 
Sources: This is how to have tough conversations, E.B. Johnson, Start it up; and How to have difficult conversations at work, Ashira Prossack, Forbes. Accessed October 6, 2021.

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Everyday Conversations

The following is an example of a hard conversation that was handled correctly:

Mauro: I wanted to talk to you about your attitude at the meeting this morning. I didn’t like how you ignored my ideas and comments about the X Project.

Jeff: You deserved it! You asked a lot of questions about the project, even though you didn’t understand how much work I put into it. I worked really hard to make sure it was done on time. It’s an amazing project and you’re probably just jealous. You were making my work and accomplishments look bad in front of our bosses and the team!

Mauro: I’m sorry if I made you feel bad. I understand why you are protective of your work. You have put in a lot of time and effort to build it. I said in the meeting that X Project is a great tool. It can help the whole company. I wanted to give you some advice so that your hard work will be useful and help more than one department.

Jeff:: I understand that I may have been too emotional this morning. I want to talk more about your feedback and suggestions. Let’s meet to discuss this further.

Mauro: I’m excited for it. Thank you for your time.

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