How to Prepare for a Difficult Conversation

By Harvard Business Review
June 6, 2018

Don’t like conflict? Here are five tactics for tough talks that are constructive and can maintain mutual respect.

Avoiding or delaying a difficult conversation can hurt your relationships and create other negative outcomes. It may not feel natural at first, especially if you dread discord, but you can learn to dive into these tough talks by reframing your thoughts.

Here are five strategies that can help: 

Begin from a place of curiosity and respect. Stop worrying about being liked. While it’s natural to want to be liked, that’s not always the most important thing. Lean into the conversation with an open attitude and a genuine desire to learn. Start from a place of curiosity and respect — for yourself and the other person. Genuine respect and vulnerability typically produce more of the same: mutual respect and shared vulnerability.

RELATED: How to Move Forward After a Difficult Workplace Conversation

Focus on what you hear, not what you say. You don’t actually need to talk that much during a difficult conversation. Instead, focus on listening, reflecting and observing. Gather as much detail as possible. Ask follow-up questions without blame.

Be direct. Address uncomfortable situations head-on by getting right to the point. Have a frank, respectful discussion where both parties speak frankly about the details of an issue. Talking with people honestly and with respect creates mutually rewarding relationships, even when conversations are difficult.

RELATED: Got Conflict? Defuse Situations Before They Turn Volatile

Don’t put it off. Instead of putting off a conversation for some ideal future time, tackle it right away. Get your cards on the table so you can resolve the issue and move on.

Expect a positive outcome. Focus on the long-term gains that the conversation will create for the relationship. When your attention is focused on positive outcomes and benefits, it will shift your thinking process and inner dialogue to a more constructive place.

Copyright 2017 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.

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