When Conversations Get Tough

Author: Russell Evans

Date: 11/03/2022

Be purposeful and creative, rather than reactive

Tough conversations matter. And in tough conversations, one of the biggest challenges is to get the right balance between being assertive and empathic. Being effectively assertive allows you to express what’s important to you; the things you need, your perspective; as well as what concerns you about the situation. Being effectively empathic means you work hard to understand the other person’s perspective and are able to express their views without adding any kind of judgemental twist.

How to start

A good place to start could be thinking about how you typically approach ‘conflict’, remembering ‘conflict’ can be anything on a spectrum from violent disagreement to simple differences of opinion. It's helpful to reflect on the following:

  • Has this current situation triggered a particular reactive response in you?
  • Is your tendency to compete with them, to give in and accommodate them or to simply avoid the issue all together?
  • Do you have all the information?

By stepping back and thinking how your tendencies will drive how you are likely to react in this kind of scenario, you can choose to be more purposeful and respond in a way that helps create the right conditions to solve the problem together.

7 Top tips for managing difficult conversations

  • Be well prepared, so when you are being assertive you know your story well and how it contributes to engaging the other person to solve the challenge at hand.
  • Practice and maybe get some feedback until you believe you are in a good place to be your most persuasive.
  • Take notes to refer to when you are deep in the actual conversation.
  • Start the conversation with empathy.
  • Ask the other person to talk about their views first. On almost every occasion they will appreciate it and research shows they will also be more likely to listen to your views.
  • Remember to listen deeply and without judgement. Listen for fact and meaning because both are important in solving problems.
  • Finally, it's okay to for the outcome to be that while you might understand their point of view, it doesn’t necessarily mean you agree with them as long as you do so without judgement. What's important is that you've explored, listened and each party is able to move forward constructively and positively, equipped with more information and better understanding.

Conversations that could potentially become tough ones really matter. Give them the attention and thought they deserve.

About the Author

Russell Evans

Russell Evans, Director and Partner at Primeast has worked with organisations globally, for over twenty years helping them to develop leadership effectiveness.

Russell has worked across a range of sectors, particularly in highly matrixed, often heavily regulated environments. He is passionate about supporting leaders as they embark on their leadership journey helping them develop both their 'outer game' (skills) and their 'inner game' (thinking and mindset).

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