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by Paul Bindig, 16th April 2019

Many of us avoid difficult conversations because of the way they make us feel



You know the ones I’m talking about.  There’s something you need to discuss with a direct report, peer, manager, friend or even family member.  But you’ve been putting it off.


Why the procrastination?  Well, you know that the information you wish to convey isn’t necessarily going to be well received.  And you're pretty sure the entire conversation will make all concerned feel very uncomfortable.  There may even be tears, anger, aggression, blame or complete withdrawal from the interaction.  I’m willing to bet you don’t enjoy arousing those feelings in others, nor experiencing them yourself.  Frankly, neither do I.  I doubt many people do.


So how are these potentially uncomfortable situations often dealt with?  Avoidance.  Most people I meet will go quite a distance out of their way to avoid conflict situations.  And let’s be honest, simply not having a difficult conversation is a pretty easy thing to do. 


But here’s the problem:  If you avoid the conversation, the information never gets communicated. 


Which means the issue that was vexing you never gets resolved.  And experience tells me that 999 out of 1000 issues don’t fix themselves.  In fact most of the time, things snowball to the point where a really tough conversation is needed and becomes urgent and unavoidable.


Would you like to be better at having those difficult, challenging conversations? 


You wouldn’t be alone if you did.  It’s singularly the most popular thing I teach.  To get you started, here are my top seven tips to increase your effectiveness at having the conversation you hate to have.


  1. Prepare


While it’s impossible to predict how anyone will react to a message you deliver, the truth is there is only a certain range of reactions they will possibly have.  Running through as many possible scenarios as you can beforehand will dramatically increase your ability to deal with the outcome of the conversation.  Also, make sure you know what you want to say in various scenarios, which will help keep you calm and prevent you from tripping over your words.


  1. Less is more


More words doesn’t mean more effective communication.  Say what you need to say, then be silent.  Allow the person you’re talking to time to digest and reply.  Resist the compelling urge to fill every silence with your voice – it will simply lessen the impact and clarity of your message.


  1. Avoid debate


If you have a message to deliver, deliver the message.  Do not get drawn into a protracted debate.  It will only lengthen the conversation and potentially upset both parties as they throw their intellectual and emotional weight behind the compelling need to be “right”. 


  1. Avoid “weasel words”


What are weasel words?  Words that you might insert into an otherwise simple message in an attempt to soften the blow and prevent our recipient’s feelings from being hurt.  The problem is they don’t soften the blow, they soften the message.  Examples of weasel words are “perhaps”, “maybe”, “if that’s ok”, “I was just”, “I’ll try”, “hopefully”.  Consider the differing effectiveness of the below messages:


“It is not acceptable for you to come into work 10 minutes late” versus


“Hey, if it’s ok, it would be great if you could perhaps come into work on time from now on”.


  1. Avoid “rabbit holes”


Don’t let the person you’re talking to take you off message.  Yes, they may have very well cleaned the entire shop last week unasked, but you’re here to talk about their poor behaviour during the meeting this morning, nothing more.


  1. Just the facts


Focus on facts, your observations and feelings, none of which are up for debate.  Accusations such as “you have a bad attitude”, or “you don’t care about your job” can be viewed as personal attacks and cannot be proven.  As such, they’re a waste of both time and emotional energy for you and the person you’re confronting.


  1. Practice


To truly make your next difficult conversation go far more smoothly, there is no substitute for practicing the above principles in a safe environment with guidance from an experienced facilitator.


Thanks for reading, and with luck my article may have motivated you to attempt that “little chat” you’ve been putting off.   If you’d like further assistance – feel free to reach out on +61 473 200 077 or via my website at Personal Best.




Paul Bindig is the Director and Lead Coach at Personal Best and the Director of Sales and LeadershipTraining at Accela.

Paul specialises in coaching, training and mentoring individuals and groups to personal and business success. 

If you'd like to learn more how you can master difficult and challenging conversations, contact Paul directly on +61 473 200 077 or via Personal Best's website.

To read Paul's other articles, click here.