Tips for Handling Tough Conversations

Email This Post Email This Post

Most of us dread confrontations with others.  We would prefer that our interactions would be pleasant rather than hostile, but sometimes difficult conversations must take place.

If you want to avoid potential stress, consider these tips:

1)     Begin with agreement.  If you will disagree, start off with something you can both agree.  Example: I know that you have found John’s behavior difficult to control at school.  We have had similar difficulties at home.

2)     Say “and”, not “but.”  Example: We need a plan to get John’s behavior under control AND we must not lose track of how much John needs to experience academic success in the classroom.

3)     Use lots of “I” statements.  Limit “you” statements.  “I” clarifies for the other person what you think and feel while “you” can make a person feel criticized.  “I” reduces defensiveness and fosters communication.  Example: I am feeling discouraged because the information I receive about John seems so negative.

4)   Avoid negatives and absolutes, they shut down communication.  Example: Negative: “Why can’t you…”, Positive: “What if we…”.  Negative: “I hate it when…”,  Positive: “Wouldn’t it be better if…”.  Negative: “You always say…”,  Positive: “I’ve heard you say…”.  Absolute: “Nothing ever gets done”,  Non-absolute: “At times, there have been problems getting things done.”   Absolute: “We must do it this way”,  Non-absolute: “Here’s a good idea to consider.”


Adapted from SPEAK OUT – CPAC / Winter 1999