We know that difficult conversation; the one that never actually happens, but desperately needs to. The conversation we needed to have but didn’t, about what each of us want from an upcoming holiday, a project, or a relationship.

In fact, hard conversations actually become harder over time. That’s because everything we’ve stayed silent about hangs in the air without a chance for explanation or exploration of common ground.

I’ve seen it firsthand in my own life. Whether I fear negative consequences or have preconceived notions on how the other person may react, I create conditions for tougher discussions the more I avoid them. And that inevitably leads to more postponements.

Are you postponing the difficult conversations you need to have?

Have you been dreading those vital conversations declaring your boundaries or asserting your needs?  There’s only one way to stop the insanity and get closer to happier relationships: Start talking! AND…

Before you go spilling your heart in every awkward way possible, begin by getting clear on what you really hope comes out of the discussion.

The 3 crucial steps to preparing for a difficult conversation

Most of us start a road trip by checking our cars.

  • Do we have enough fuel?
  • Is the engine in decent condition?
  • Are the temperature controls working?

We also program the GPS to get to our destination.

Starting a conversation you’ve been postponing requires the same degree of preparation.

Step 1: Get clear
Most people approach a tough situation by identifying what the other person has done wrong. Unfortunately, that just makes things worse. Start by asking yourself:

  • What do I hope to get out of this conversation?
  • What is critically important for me to convey?
  • What am I ready to let go of or accept?

Step 2: Check the road conditions and the other passengers
Making sure that you have a clear understanding of what may lay ahead can open you up to fully hearing out the other person. For this, ask yourself:

  • Is this a good time or place to have the conversation? When would be a good time?
  • What do I need to say to invite the other into a genuine conversation?
  • What could I do to make this a positive experience for both of us?
  • What difference do I want to make in our relationship?

Step 3: Check the mechanics
There’s nothing worse than struggling to find the right words and letting your emotions get in the way of a productive discussion. Before that happens, take some time before the discussion to plan your key points. Questions like these can be extremely useful:

  • What can I say to establish common ground while acknowledging our perceived differences?
  • What are the key phases to a genuine conversation I need to keep in mind throughout?
  • How do I stay in active listening mode even if I don’t like what I’m hearing?
  • Am I ready to receive feedback?

With some thoughtful preparation, you’re creating a roadmap for honest and respectful interactions now and in the future. Let the genuine conversation begin!

3 thoughts on “3 crucial steps to preparing for a difficult conversation”

  1. Thank you Dominique. Excellent coaching tips and reminders. All your questions are open ended and definitely allows for critical analysis. For me it would hopefully remove the defensiveness on the part of the recipient.

    1. Dominique Dennery

      In my experience, asking yourself these questions does increase your own calm and composure and enables you to show up with more authenticity and confidence. This calm attitude tends to decrease defensiveness in the other.

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