How to Manage Difficult Conversations


We all have to manage tricky conversations – they’re inevitable. Rarely are we taught how to turn a difficult conversation into something useful for both sides.

Mostly, us humans have proven we are nowhere near good enough at developing ‘healthy conflict’ or agreeing to disagree. Sometimes it’s because we lack the skills, other times it’s because our own ‘stuff’ gets in the way.

So, sit back and take on board these 7 winning strategies.

1. Avoidance creates more fear and more avoidance and often serves to make matters worse

Notice the limiting beliefs that keep you putting off a difficult discussion: “I haven’t got time”, “There’s no point”, etc., and replace them with empowering ones, such as:

  • “Well placed feedback gives everyone a chance to move forward.”
  • “Saying nothing is unfair to everyone and only makes matters worse.”
  • “I can find a way to create a healthy outcome.”

2. Use a proven feedback model such as Action Impact Do (AID)

ACTION: I noticed you reacted to what I said and walked out. IMPACT: This leaves us both upset and stuck. DO: I’d like us to find a way forward and would like your help to do this.

3. Look out for your style and try to be flexible

Notice how your style could ruin the feedback model and make matters worse.

You are likely to fall into one of 4 categories:

STYLE 1: Competitive Driver

In your difficult discussion you’ll get straight to the point. You may come across as blunt, aggressive and uncaring. You might even like the idea that you are a ‘no-nonsense person’ and uncaring, but this is likely to wreck the outcome. Even if you force your way and ideas you’ll push others into quiet resentment, not open accord.

STYLE 2: Logical Analyser

In your difficult discussion you will plan and possibly over-plan with lots of data, facts and details. You may come across as cold and robotic, with too much detail for the other person to handle. If you over-plan you might be using this to avoid having the discussion in the first place, believing you need more facts when they are not required.

STYLE 3: Loyal Connector

In your difficult discussion you won’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings, leaving you to delay or permanently avoid the discussion and not clearly state what you mean. You might want to keep the peace at the expense of sharing your truth.

STYLE 4: Creative Enthusiast

In your difficult discussion you might under-plan, mixing in too much lightheartedness and sugarcoating what you really want to say. Watch out for over enthusiasm, over positivity, getting off-track and taking away from the seriousness of the situation.

4. Match the other person

Do this subtly and in different ways. Match their preferred style by subtly matching the body language, words and tone of the 4 styles above – they are all slightly different.

  • If they tend to be more of a Competitive Driver, keep your discussion straight to the point and based on facts, and talk quickly about solutions.
  • If they tend to be more of a Logical Analyser, keep your discussion based on clear steps and accurate data, and talk slowly step by step to reach the right quality outcome.
  • If they tend be more of a Loyal Connector, include personal interest in your discussion about how they are feeling. Definitely use the empathy structure below if they are unsettled or upset, and take into consideration their feelings, confidence, motivations and inner thoughts.
  • If they tend to be more of a Creative Enthusiast, show positive interest and affirmations in your discussion about their ideas and creative solutions – even off the wall ones – and make space for discussing different options and possibilities.

5. Use empathy, especially when emotions are involved

Use these 3 proven steps:

  • ACKNOWLEDGE: I can see this is a difficult situation for you.
  • EMPATHISE: And I guess it’s not easy being in this position.
  • CONNECT: Let’s look at ways forward together.

Notice that if you like being a Competitive Driver you will likely dismiss and negatively judge the power and use of empathy.

If you like being a Logical Analyser you will likely skip empathy all together, sticking to logic, and unknowingly disregard (emotionally) the other person.

If you like being the Loyal Connector you will see the power of using empathy but could get lost in too much of it, rather than using it wisely to help move forward stuck emotions.

Notice that if you like being the Creative Enthusiast you might like empathy, but short change the 3-step approach recommended above and blow past other people’s feelings with all your new, wonderful, positive ideas.

6. When in a counter discussion use Yes and… instead of Yes but… or Yes however…

Yes and… means the other person and their point feels heard and listened to, not disregarded or inferior. After the Yes and… place your counter idea and let it do its own work. If it is a decent winning idea, trust it. Doing it this way will mean the other person will listen to it more genuinely.

7. Your body gives you away every second

Begin by using physical matching skills to help settle the other person, so they feel safe in your company.

Then go deeper and notice your embodied patterns and tendencies that give you away. Never underestimate that the other person often sees these more clearly than we do. These may include:

  • Over tense forehead, jaw, neck, shoulders.
  • Posture leaning in or leaning away.
  • Breath that becomes short, tense and limited.
  • Embodied ticks such as tuning out/powering in, looking away and favourite distractions.

Several years ago my wife said to me, “I know when you are just about to strike back because your nostrils flare!”

Once you understand how your body gives you away under the natural pressure and stress involved in difficult conversations, use Centring Skills to break your habits. This is where you utilise the power of the breath and subtle body relaxation to change the patterns of tensing, zoning out or powering in.


As you’ve probably anticipated, mastering just one of these strategies is very powerful and rewarding. Being able to fluidly combine them together can create wonderful results both at work and at home.

If you’d like more detailed information about these strategies and how to master them, contact me at

15 Essential Ingredients for Success cover

Free download

Simply sign up to our blog below and we’ll send you a free PDF download detailing our 15 learning insights to developing an outstanding customer experience.

You’ll also receive our latest blog post direct to your inbox every fortnight, so you need never miss a post again!

* = required field
  • Quote-background

    Mastering just one of these strategies is very powerful and rewarding. Being able to fluidly combine them together can create wonderful results both at work and at home.

    Glenn Bracey,
    Future Vision Ltd,
    9th May 2016


Sign up to our blog

We'll deliver our latest blog posts straight to your inbox every other Monday, and you'll also get our 15 Essential Ingredients for Success PDF download.

cover of 15 Essential Ingredients for Success cover

* = required field


Popular Posts

Follow us on LinkedIn