Difficult conversations are an inevitable part of any life situation. We’ve all been there. Many of us just don’t want to go there. Something has gone wrong and you have the tough task of talking about it.

We know we must talk to our boss, work colleague, family member, or close a friend about something vitally important, yet we avoid the conversation because it could become uncomfortable, maybe even explosive and emotions might run high. On a basic level our core beliefs of justice may be challenged.

Sometimes a difficult conversation is about a delicate subject you’ve been avoiding. And at work or even at home, it could be about something that needs to change.


Yet in having an awkward one-on-one with that one person can be seen as an opportunity for growth and a positive change in your relationship.

Most of us are usually reluctant to start a challenging conversation out of fear of the consequences. Just thinking about having these conversations can cause anxiety. Yet, that conversation you’ve been avoiding can easily distract you from everything else requiring your total attention.

The ugly truth is, if you don’t confront the issue and have that conversation, you will stumble through a confrontation that may not end well.

As difficult as they may be, you can’t avoid tough conversations but you can make it easier to have them.

Instead of avoiding difficult conversations, it pays to have the courage to start confronting colleagues and family members in a constructive way with skill, empathy and compassion.


Here are some useful tips:

  • Be honest, open and listen deeply to the other person.
  • Actively listen by clarifying and paraphrasing what you have heard.
  • Use “I” and “We” language
  • Acknowledge the other person’s feelings
  • Openly acknowledge when your actions, words or choices may be hurtful or inappropriate
  • Ask the other person what they need
  • Be willing to modify your original position
  • Explore the full story before seeking a resolution
  • Be humble and explore the possibility of a win-win situation.
  • If you find your emotions running high, then back away until you can feel calmer. Remember you can never take back your words.

Difficult conversations can be stressful. Prepare yourself. No matter how explosive a conversation may be, it’s important to start with a calm mindset. Your attitude towards the conversation can influence its outcome.

In many tough conversations, someone is likely to overreact. The worst thing would be to have two people who are overreacting.

We, at VETTA Internationale, apply many of these principles in our workshops such as conflict management and complaint handling as well as Human Resource Skills for HR Administrators. Our interactive approach encourages deep listening and a chance to resolve uncomfortable issues.

Having difficult conversations is an art — with continued practice, you will get better, acquire the needed skills and make the next one productive.


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