How to Handle a Difficult Conversation Delicately

No matter how much we would like to avoid it, at some point in our lives we are going to need to have a difficult conversation with someone. Wherever you interact with people, at some point, problems will occur. But they don’t have to be dreaded. With a few skills, you can actually have a conversation where everyone feels heard and respected. Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind next time you have to approach a difficult conversation.

1. Know what you want from the conversation

Before you approach the person, ask yourself what resolution you want from the conversation. Do you just need to vent, do you need someone to make a change or do something differently, or are you looking for an apology? The answers to these questions will help to clearly articulate what the problem is and how you would like to resolve it.

2. Check in with yourself

How are your perceptions and experiences affecting your view of the situation? What buttons of yours are being pushed, and what boundaries feel violated? By checking in with yourself, and asking the honest and sometimes hard questions, you will be able to clearly see your role, and that may affect how you approach the other person.

3. Get centered

No one likes to have difficult conversations, but it can be easier if you are calm and centered when you approach the situation Nervousness and tension is natural, but it doesn’t have to paralyze you. When it is time to approach the other person, take a few moments to get centered, take a few deep breaths, and expect positive results.

4. Find a neutral time and place to talk

Certain times and places are better than others to talk. Before you approach the person and jump right into the conversation, first ask if it is a good time to talk. If they say “no,” arrange another time to talk when you can both be present and available without interruptions.

5. Admit your part in the situation

One of the best ways to neutralize a potentially heated situation is to admit your responsibility in the problem. By admitting your part, the other person will be more willing to hear your perspective and admit their responsibility too.

6. Be clear about the problem and how you want to resolve it

Be clear about how the person’s actions or words have affected you and what you would like to happen next. Stick to the topic at hand and do not refer to other situations. Speak in “I” statements, trying not to judge or blame. Try the sandwich approach where you start the conversation with something positive, then describe the problem or challenge, and finish with another positive statement. This helps to “soften the blow” to the other person.

7. Stay cool

People don’t like to be told that they have done something wrong. Regardless of how you deliver the message, some people will just find it hard to hear. Regardless of the response you get, stay cool and focus on the matter at hand.

8. Get their perspective

Being open to hearing the other person’s perspective is a powerful skill in resolving any conflict. If you have been hurt, this may be a difficult process for you. Try to remain open and look at the situation from their side. Calm your inner voice and just listen. Being open may change the way you feel about the situation and lead to a more collaborative outcome.

9. Work toward resolution

Now that both parties have expressed themselves, it is time to start working toward a solution. Try to approach the situation with the attitude that you both want an amicable resolution. Share your thoughts and ask them what they think. Find something that you both like and build on it.

If you’ve been successful at staying centered, hearing the other person’s perspective, admitting your role, and being clear about what you want, then you should be able to resolve any conflict situation.