Managing Difficult Conversations

Have you ever hesitated when faced with a disagreement or the need to confront someone about an uncomfortable situation? Whether it’s at home or work, most of us want to avoid difficult conversations for fear of how people will react.

Since ignoring disagreements doesn’t make them go away, being able to deal with difficult conversations effectively is an essential skill in maintaining good relationships and succeeding in life. We want to help remove the fear factor from difficult conversations by sharing tools to help turn that tough talk into a constructive dialogue to keep your relationships intact and your career on track.

In this webinar we discovered:

  • the most common mistakes we make when having a difficult conversation and how to avoid them.
  • strategies for handling difficult conversations, directly and professionally.
  • how to structure the opening of a difficult conversation more effectively.
  • tips to avoid defensiveness when you are confronted.
  • keys to focusing on problems and solutions—not blaming others.

Webinar presenter Nan Gesche, MA, is an educator, speaker, and coach who aims to “help people play well together.” She has guided organizations through change management, resiliency building, and conflict management for over 20 years.

Presented on April 12, 2023.

Webinar Takeaways

Difficult conversations are different from one another and require nuanced responses. Context needs to be modified for each conversation. The webinar goes into greater detail and gives concrete examples, but here are the main points.

“The only way out is through.” —Robert Frost

There are three parts of a difficult conversation:

  1. Prepare – This is 60% of the conversation, when you get things straight, and the only part of the conversation that you can control
    • What is the purpose of the conversation?
    • What is your attitude going into the conversation?
    • What is your strategy?
    • Script out how you will start the conversation
  2. Engage – 30% of the conversation; be present
    • Connect on a common ground
    • Ask better questions
    • Respond respectfully
    • Engage in problem solving
  3. Close – 10% but still very important
    • Verify agreements
    • Leave on a positive note
    • Don’t rehash points
    • Arrange a follow-up
    • Reflect and learn (e.g., how did I contribute or how could I have intervened sooner?)

Keep in mind that:

  • Research finds that 70% of employees avoid difficult conversations at work and it's probably similar in their personal lives.
  • Avoidance doesn’t make anything better. Addressing things as they arise may actually keep unfavorable situations from getting worse.
  • Rarely can we solve a difficult situation with a single conversation.