Is there a difficult conversation you’ve been putting off?  Managing our emotions during difficult conversations is challenging, but possible.  With preparation, practice, and an open mind, having difficult conversations can be a little easier.  Here are some tips for your next difficult conversation:


  • Practice having the conversation with someone else or in front of the mirror.  Get feedback on tone and body language.
  • Ask for advice from a trusted source.
  • Don’t ignore the problem or hope it magically disappears.
  • Resist the urge to gossip or complain about the situation.

Understand your own emotions.

  • Admit your contribution to the problem, however small.  It’s rarely one person’s fault entirely.
  • Be honest about your emotions and intentions.  Take the time to sort through them.
  • Acknowledge any “triggers” you have: is this a personality clash or something more?
  • Take a break from the conversation for a few minutes, if necessary.

Help the other person feel heard and respected.

  • Be curious and keep an open mind.
  • Find out as much as possible about the situation from the other person’s perspective.  Is there some sort of misunderstanding or miscommunication?
  • Validate the other person’s emotions
  • Paraphrase what they’ve said to convey you’re listening and ask them if you’ve got it right.  Don’t make assumptions.
  • Use sensitive language and a respectful tone of voice.  If you are angry or aggressive, the other person will become defensive and dig their heels in.
  • Don’t interrupt or dismiss the other person’s concerns.

Focus on solutions and problem-solving.

  • Identify the reason for the disconnect.  What’s the real issue here?
  • Ask for input and feedback about possible solutions.
  • Be willing to compromise, but know how far you are willing to go.
  • If necessary, ask for help from a supervisor or mediator.

Ultimately, you can’t control the perceptions or reactions of others.  The only thing we can do is control ourselves and model the kind of behavior we wish to see in others.  Rather than fighting or suppressing our emotions, it’s important to work through them so we can better regulate ourselves.  The ability to – consistently – remain calm, compassionate, and assertive during a difficult conversation is an invaluable tool.

John Bradley Jackson
© Copyright 2013
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