Having Difficult Conversations: Why They Are Important

Difficult conversations are important to have, so why do we avoid them? We avoid difficult conversations for many reasons, including:

  • We don’t want to make matters worseWhy It's Important To Have Difficult Conversations
  • We fear we’ll be attacked back
  • We don’t want to be mean 

It’s natural to fear difficult conversations – however the truth is that when we practice compassion and treat each other with respect, the conversations rarely are as difficult as we expect.

Avoiding vs. Having Difficult Conversations

When we avoid difficult conversations the issue never has a chance to be resolved. Plus, as we play the stories over and over in our mind, the stories gets louder and the people in the stories become bigger and bigger villains.

Having difficult conversations is an opportunity to build trust and respect. When we learn to build trust we also learn we can challenge each other without fear which means our relationships with other people and/or organizations improve greatly.

When we have difficult conversations we:

  • Demonstrate we care enough to bother (vs. sweep it under the rug)
  • Respect creativity and other people’s opinions / experiences / education
  • Might identify we are missing something – (two minds are better than one)
  • Build confidence in ourselves and our relationships
  • Create trust and respect

Having Difficult Conversations (how to prepare)

Difficult conversations should have a structure and the following 8 steps will help you prepare. When you can’t prepare, fall back on what will soon become your great experience. Overall, stay positive, listen mindfully, be compassionate (don’t attack), and do not be defensive. Difficult conversations are rarely conflict situations until we make them that way.

For example, you might be thinking “They are lazy,” when in reality they had other important priorities you didn’t know of.

Once you’ve agreed to take the initiative, use the following steps to prepare:

  1. Decide what you want to say in advance:
    • Then, decide if this is worthy of sharing or is this all about ‘you’ and something you need to work through on your own.
  2. Explore ‘What is your purpose, what is your desired outcome and what are your facts? How can you frame it so it’s not an attack? Why is this difficult for you? What are you afraid of?’
  3. Be prepared to discuss behaviour & how you feel. For example:
    • Instead of “I hate the way you interrupt me,” share your story. “Each time I began answering the customer’s question you spoke over me. I’m not sure you even noticed, so I wanted to share this with you because when this happens I feel like you don’t trust my experience.”
  4. Have you contributed to the problem?
    • Take personal responsibility – own your own stuff.
  5. Is the timing right for you AND them? Are they in a space where they can manage the difficult conversation? This cannot be your excuse NOT to have the difficult conversation:
  6. Start by saying this is hard for you:
    • I would like to talk about something that you may find challenging. This is hard for me also but it’s important.
  7. Stay positive, flexible and listen mindfully. If your purpose is honorable a few mistakes will be overlooked.
  8. Afterwards, evaluate how it went. What did you learn? Could you have done it differently?

If this really is a difficulty conversation, the other person now has the choice to do something with the information you shared… or to do nothing. If this was a conflict situation, some resolution will have to be found. (I will discuss the differences between Difficult Conversations vs. Conflict in another next post).


Having difficult conversations is vital to healthy, vibrant relationships.

Get clear on your purpose – make sure your purpose is constructive and not about teaching them a lesson. If you get emotional, heated and off topic then it’s likely they will also get emotional.

And finally, be comfortable being uncomfortable. Yup – difficult conversations will be uncomfortable. But, you are amazing. Your intentions are good and you are willing to be uncomfortable for the benefit of the individual, relationship and/or company.

Happy communicating.

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About Bruce Mayhew
Bruce Mayhew is a Leadership Coach, Keynote Speaker and Corporate Trainer who builds strong client and co-worker relationships that give clients a competitive advantage. Our training and development programs include: ■Generational Differences ■Effective Business Email Writing ■Email Etiquette ■Phone Etiquette ■Behaviour Event Interviewing (BEI) ■Mindfulness ■Using Linkedin to Build Client Relationships ■Objective Setting Made Easy

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