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Difficult Conversations

I’ve had a few difficult conversations so far this week. These are the types of conversations that typically are avoided, but really have to happen. The types of discussions that can make even the most seasoned negotiator squirm.

They have to happen because if they don’t, the underlying problems don’t get resolved. They fester and grow and get worse until eventually you have to deal with the much larger and more difficult problem. Sometimes confronting people and saying what must be said is the only way to move a situation forward. This is what I realized and did a few times already this week.

It might be an issue with a team-mate or employee, a child, a spouse or a friend. Regardless of who it is, when faced with these uncomfortable conversations, it helps to do the following:

  1. Don’t apologize for what you are saying or for confronting the person. If it isn’t your fault, you shouldn’t apologize. You need to be clear and confident with what you are doing and why before you confront the person.
  2. While confronting the person, go out of your way to say as little as possible and listen as much as possible.
  3. Once you say what must be said, do whatever you can to make the other person feel comfortable in the situation. This doesn’t mean taking them off the hook, it does mean not pushing too far or steam-rolling them. Everyone deserves respect and and a chance to be heard.
  4. If at all possible, make a phone call or meet face to face when confronting someone. E-mail is aweful for this.

Have you had a difficult conversation recently? Any tips to share? Please leave a comment.


  1. Ravi Raman says:

    @ Marcia: Thanks for your comment. I like your statement about having a “dialogue” and that “confronting” maybe not being the best term since that has an adversarial tone. I agree with that.

  2. Marcia Feola says:

    In response to your blog note. I think just the word “confronting” sets up the conversation as adversarial and as such creates a natural resistance. A conversation started this way won’t work. Instead we I think we have to invite people to dialogue. Being able to speak truth and have it heard takes talent, skill and requires the willingness to engage in a real dialogue. None of us have the corner on truth. So being able to explore with someone else will help both individuals have a better understanding of the situation and create some new space for win win solutions. Ideas and tips? I’ve got lots and they work! But they don’t work if you try to fake it. You have to be genuinely willing to accept that YOU have to be willing to listen and learn as well when you want another person to listen and learn.

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