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  • Michele Hanson

Handling Difficult Conversations

Updated: Apr 25, 2018




Difficult conversations arise constantly in our lives. Challenging discussions or arguments can erupt unexpectedly at work or in our personal lives without warning. Many times sending us into heightened levels of stress. And, we all know that stress is unhealthy and that someone in stress will send others into stress. This article will give you some insights and best practices into how to deal with these situations in an effective way that will maintain a level of respect for the individuals involved.


It’s no secret that some individuals seem to enjoy conflict and others will avoid it at all costs. The reason is that our diverse work styles come into play and in stress, when our needs are not met, we will provide an exaggerated view of that style. The most difficult conversations can be a challenge and fun for some or heart wrenching for others. I’m sure you know which side of that fence you are on and some people may flex from one side to the other depending on the situation. Wherever you fall, its good. It’s who you are and the most important thing you can learn in life is to take that strength and flex it to meet others needs.


Direct Styles


If you are on the side of being very direct in situations that are challenging, you probably are the dominant force in conversations. You may not get flustered with someone making direct statements or forcefully asking you questions. You might even enjoy the type of conversation where people get to the point quickly and may want to debate topics.


If this is you, you’ve got a strength in being able to say what needs to be said and to probably move conversations forward, quickly. This is extremely valued in many situations. It can also be problematic if someone has a higher level of sensitivity. In fact, those people may stress you out and cause you to be more direct. Below are some ideas for flexing your style in situations that might require a more sensitive approach.


  1. Banana/Coffee Technique: Stop from blurting out your response especially in heated or emotionally charged situations and listen to what is being said. Ask three open-ended questions and take a bite of your banana or a sip of coffee to listen.

  2. Listen with empathy: Really listen to the other party. Don’t think about your next firey statement back. Listen and respond back, “I understand.” It doesn’t mean you agree. It does mean you’ve heard them and that’s all people want… to know they’ve been heard. Those two words can diffuse a heated conversation and then can allow you to make your point.


Indirect Styles


You may be a more sensitive individual who is less direct, a bit more diplomatic and may focus more on how something is said in consideration of the receiving party’s feelings. If you fall into the more indirect zone you may have a delayed speech pattern whereby you spend some time thinking before responding to a question or comment. You probably like to offer suggestions to gain agreement for change or action. And, you may really strive to have pleasant relationships where all participants involved are respected and valued.


If seems more like your style, you have a strength in really making people feel good about themselves and can connect with them at the heart. This is an extremely valuable trait as you are able to develop strong and deep relationships with people. Someone who is more direct and to-the-point, may cause you to go into a heightened level of stress because they may be missing that element of respect and caring that you value. These individuals can cause a level of emotion to erupt and you will either hold it inside and withdraw, or react with tears and/or charged statements. Below are some ideas for flexing your style that might require directness.



  1. Find the space to pause and calm yourself down. And then, directly connect with the individual in a calm manner that focuses just on the facts. You may need to bullet point out the facts so that you can speak without emotion. People with a direct style will react more positively if you can avoid an emotional outburst and really articulate the key points in a succinct manner.

  2. Be sure to listen to the statements from the other party and pick out 1 or 2 items that you can agree with. In your response state, that “yes, you are correct about x, y, z…” and then proceed to make your point in a non-emotional response. Remember to stay away from rambling and get right to your point.


Making just a slight flex in your style can diffuse a potentially heated situation and can create a meaningful discussion that will result in a productive outcome. Keep in mind, that this is not easy. In fact, it is really difficult to change course when in stress. It takes self-awareness and purposeful practice. The more you are able to interrupt your brain patterns that may send you into stress, the more you are able to manage your stress and live a healthier life.


To learn more about your individual work style and how to manage your conversations, contact ExecuInsight LLC at execuinsight@gmail.com.


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