Three tips for managing difficult conversations

Photo credit - Colt Hudson via

Photo credit – Colt Hudson via

Truly listening to someone is one of the greatest gifts of generosity you can make. It is also a key component to being able to manage difficult conversations. Here are three tips that will aid you in being more effective in ALL conversations – not just the difficult ones.

Difficult conversations usually happen when there is some challenge to communication effectiveness. These tips enhance the effectiveness of receiving and delivering messages. They are not new – just timely reminders of what we all know and often forget.

  1. Be present
    To stay present in a meeting or conversation, be in the conversation. That means turn away from your computer. Put your mobile phone into airplane mode or leave it at your desk. Focus on the conversation at hand, not on the messages coming in.The presence of a phone at a meeting can make people feel less connected. This in turn, damages your ability to communicate successfully.You may need to also rid yourself of issues and problems on your mind. This is so you can be fully present, attentive and skillful.Before going into a meeting, answering a phone or speaking to someone, pause. Take one deep breath. Maybe even remember to smile. Then proceed with the communication.
  2. Listen more
    Take a genuine interest and be curious about what is being said (even if not). Pay attention. There are many cues to notice.Here are a few:

    What does a person spend more time talking about?
    What makes someone animated?
    If you listen more, with curiosity it helps you connect with someone better and understand what is being said. It also informs you as to how you might respond to a conversation. 
    Tune into the topics your colleagues/friends are passionate about.
    Get to know them so you see their perspective on things.
    (Seppala & Stevenson, 2017).
    Conversations like this can teach you something as well. You need to create a space to be able to hear what is being said. That comes from awareness to create the space to consider something afresh.

  3. Be open
    Having an open mind means having the confidence to consider another point of view without feeling compelled to agree or disagree with it yet being able to if required.

    Sometimes the greatest thing to create an open mind is being wrong and having to consider another viewpoint as right. Being challenged and going with the challenge to a new outcome, can reveal many things to those in the conversation.In so doing, take a helicopter moment to consider how you are in such conversations. Are you formulating your argument before someone else has put forward their view? Are you committed to one way of doing things unable to see other approaches as equally valid?There may be useful things to say to facilitate your openness like …I haven’t thought about it that way … 
    Say some more about that …
    Let me think about that … 

Such approaches will facilitate people sharing more ideas with you. By conveying more acceptance of ideas through listening and considering them creates greater space for confidence and engagement. It’s worth a try!

Source: Seppala, Emma & Stevenson, Jennifer. 2017. In a Difficult Conversation. Listen More than You Talk. Harvard Business Review. 9 February 2017.


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