Conflict: Dealing with Difficult People and How to Have the Conversation You Are Avoiding


In the back of your mind, there is the conversation you have been avoiding. Mostly it’s because it is going to be uncomfortable to share what you want to communicate.  Uncomfortable for you.  For them.  You want things to get better on their own, so you avoid the conversation. But it is lingering there, in the back of your mind.


Your silence changes nothing except:

1.       your frustration level, which increases, and

2.      the quality of the relationship you have with that person, which decreases.


But how do you have a difficult conversation?

Here’s how:

1.       Be curious.  Wonder what the world looks like from their point of view.  Ask about their life. Learn about their perspective. Discover how they view the situation.

Ø  Come to a difficult conversation with a solid set of well, thought out curious questions.


2.       State the factsJust the facts.  What exactly is happening? Erase your interpretations and the hidden meanings you are ascribing to the facts. Allow just the facts.  Getting a handle on the objective reality, and then take a good look at your own “meaning making machine”.

Ø  Distill the situation down to clear, simple facts. What are the simple facts? Be specific.


3.       Illuminate your interpretations.  Then let them go.  Take a good hard look at what the stories your meaning making machine has created.  Delete these narratives.

Ø  Erase the meaning you’ve created. Get ready to be open and ask the other person what the facts mean to them. (Notice that we are back to being curious.)


4.       Clarify your request.  Know what behavior it is you would like to ask for going forward.

Armed with your curiosity and just the facts, aware of your own meaning making machine (that imagination of ours!) go have your conversation. 

ü  What questions can you ask to find out what their experience is? 

ü  How can you demonstrate both curiosity and compassion during the conversation?

ü  Once you have their version of reality, and yours, on the table, check your request. 

o   If it still applies, make your request.

o   If you want to amend the request, do so and then make your request.

o    If you now have a new understanding and need to make no request, simply share that.  (“This conversation really helped me.  I thought I was going to ask you ___________, but now I realize that is not necessary.  Thank you.”)

Practicing these conversations when the issues are small and seem minor accomplishes 2 things:

1.      Issues stay small.

2.      You have a lot more practice with these kinds of talks.  It’s easier and feels more natural to do. Then, when you need to have a higher stakes conversation you have more practice, which will help you have a better outcome when it matters most.

Enjoy the conversation!