A 5-Step Guide To Host A Difficult Conversation

Step Guide Host Difficult Conversation

In a previous post, the 10 steps were outlined of what is involved in having a difficult conversation. After you have finished the first five steps of preparing for this conversation, you are ready to engage in a two-way dialogue. Specifically, it’s time to “fact” find, clarify, dig deeper, express your perspective, problem-solve, reflect, and then follow-up.

1. “Fact” Find

When starting the difficult conversation, reiterate the purpose to frame the conversation and then begin with their perspective. Try to think of yourself as a mediator between understanding your experience versus theirs and to uncover where disagreements and miscommunications arose. 

It’s important to note that most people do not enter a difficult conversation thinking they are wrong. Everyone feels they are right or at least that their opinion is valid. So coming into the conversation trying to “prove” you are right is unproductive. It’s more important to listen to their perspective.

A 5-Step Guide To Host A Difficult Conversation

I write this step as “fact” finding in quotations because, in this situation, there aren’t likely actual facts, just perspectives. However, people generally feel their opinions or perspectives are facts. Delving into understanding the other person’s perspective will help you determine what the true issue is.

Remember, your goal is to solve a particular problem, and you cannot do that with only your perspective. Be curious and genuinely be interested in learning their side. 

Lastly, try to stick to one issue at a time. Hopefully, your purpose is limited, but sometimes the problem can be complex. Keeping it simple can be very difficult because this scenario may remind you of the dozen other previous times it happened, but this is why we examine our own emotions before going into it.

It’s important to constantly remind ourselves that you are trying to resolve the present and action plan for future prevention. At a certain point, the past becomes irrelevant, but this is much easier said than done.

Related: The Art of Conversation: 25 Great Conversation Starters

2. Clarify and Dig Deeper

Once you feel you understand the issue, clarify and dig deeper. Clarify by reframing or reflecting what you heard to ensure it’s truly what they meant. You may find that in clarifying that you interpret things wrong and defenses go up. If language becomes about facts/truths steer it towards perceptions/opinions; instead of blame, discuss your own contributions; instead of accusing, discuss how it made you feel.

For instance, “It sounds like you were really angry because this reflected poorly on you” may turn into “No, I was really angry because it’s constantly an issue and a barrier for me to get my work done.”

Once perspectives are clarified, the purpose of digging deeper is to determine the root causes of the issue. Root causes may help you gain insights into why other issues are also arising. Determining the root cause can potentially help you save time because then you will see adjacent or related issues that can get fixed simultaneously. However, ensure that you stick to the purpose of the conversation and note the root causes for a later discussion.

Related: How To Keep a Conversation Going? The Art Of Listening For Hooks

3. Express your perspective

Now that you have clarified, developed an understanding, and got to a root cause, now is the time to share your viewpoint. Waiting to share your viewpoint helps ensure the conversation is open and rapport is established.

But you still need to share your perspective because it’s important for them to understand the impact their choices or behaviours have had on you. From preparing for the conversation, you should recognize your own root causes or emotions tied to the conversation and you may want to be open about that. 

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Lauren Florko Ph.D.

Lauren Florko has a Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology focusing on workplace stress. She also owns her own company Triple Threat Consulting based out of Vancouver, British Columbia. She specializes in talent management and for over a decade has worked for public, private, for-profit, and not-for-profit organizations, both at a local and global level. Her goal is to help create a world where employees, organizations, and communities thrive.View Author posts