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Difficult conversations help us understand different perspectives on the same topic.
Whether it's at a conference table, dinner table, or virtual table, we all eventually face uncomfortable situations or topics that we have to address with people we care about. While you can choose to avoid having discussions altogether, being able to successfully navigate a difficult conversation can bring about positive change and save relationships.
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A difficult conversation is a planned discussion about an uncomfortable topic or a negative experience where the goal is to share different perspectives, build mutual understanding, and develop respect (not to persuade or win"). While it's common to want to avoid these conversations, doing so can lead to stress, resentment toward others, and an escalated conflict that becomes harder to resolve. Addressing them skillfully can help strengthen relationships.
The key to navigating difficult conversations is to develop and practice effective communication skills. These skills include active listening, assertive speaking, asking good questions, and acknowledging emotions. For more on this, check out our Guide to Having Difficult Conversations below.
Check out these resources that we've created to help you do it yourself. We've also included links to other resources that we think are useful.
How to prepare for, execute, and conclude a difficult conversation.
Identifying the nine difficult personality types, how they make us feel, and how to cope with them all themed to everyone's favorite workplace comedies: The Office and Parks and Rec.
Leann Moore, a staff member at the Conflict Resolution Program (CRP), speaks with Dabney Brice, a new alumna of the Biden School's Master of Public Administration program and IPA graduate public administration fellow, about planning an approach, weighing the importance of the issue vs. the relationship, communication strategies, and more.
Check out these resources for more information about difficult conversations.
Establish a conversation agreement, sometimes called ground rules, to foster effective communication.
Learn about barriers to listening and strategies for active listening.
We have to talk. A step-by-step checklist of difficult conversations (Judy Ringer)
Try this step-by-step checklist for difficult conversations.
Don't feel like you can do it yourself? Contact Kathy Murphy or Jessica Velez, to talk about how we can help you.