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Holding Tough Conversations

Updated: Jul 19, 2019

Holding tough conversations is tough, but not holding them is tougher!

I have been studying the process and effect of holding tough conversations for the last decade. I have found these tough talks to be uncomfortable but necessary. We hold them because they matter and we care. I have often said, “We don’t hold tough conversations about passing the ketchup.” We hold them when we need or want something and it is not happening or not happening to our liking. We hold them because there are unintended consequences for NOT holding them such as:

  • We harbor ill feelings

  • We stall progress

  • We damage relationships

  • We create things we do not want

  • We devalue ourselves and others

There are six steps we can use to help hold tough conversations.

  1. List all the possible outcomes

  2. Focus on the desired outcome

  3. Practice the conversation

  4. Concentrate on listening

  5. Ask more questions than you think necessary

  6. Come to an agreement on how to move forward

1. List all possible outcomes.

Take the time prior to having the tough talk to think about all the results that might be a product of the conversation. Take your time to really envision what might happen. Some of the reasons you are hesitant to hold the conversation lie in the negative fantasies about what may happen.

2. Focus on the desired outcome.

Ask yourself which outcome you would like to achieve, then focus your thinking and the way you frame your words on that outcome. It has been said that what you focus on expands. Focus on the desired outcome you want, not the one you do not want.

3. Practice the conversation.

Most people do not do this step. They think it is a waste of time. I have found it to be essential. I advocate practicing the conversation OUT LOUD so you can hear what your own words may sound like to another. This practice allows you to change words that may be less effective and modify tone and timing issues as appropriate. It allows you to reflect on your intent and consider if the language and tone you are using replicates your intentions.

4. Concentrate on listening.

Most of the time when we are speaking, we tend to be forming our next comeback in our head instead of listening deeply to what the other person may be saying. This is lethal when you are trying to have a successful tough conversation. We not only need to listen with our head, but we need to listen with our heart. Eleanor Roosevelt said it best when she said, “To handle yourself use your head. To handle others, use your heart.”

5. Ask more questions than you think necessary.

Often when we are in a difficult conversation, we need to make sure that we really do hear and understand the perspective of the person to whom we are speaking. Rather than just assume we do, it is helpful to ask questions for clarification. These questions help ensure everyone is on the same page and increase the chance of coming to agreement.

6. Come to an agreement on how to move forward.

Before the end of the conversation, come to an agreement on next steps so that both parties are clear on how to move forward. The fact that the conversation has taken place allows for the realization of new and creative outcomes.

Holding tough conversations is tough, but not holding them is tougher!

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