Strategies and Tactics to Navigate Difficult Conversations with Confidence

Strategies and Tactics to Navigate Difficult Conversations with Confidence

This On-Demand event was originally presented on April 5, 2023 (60 min)


Difficult conversations are inevitable, but the anxiety and stress that comes with them don’t have to be. The skills for any conflict or difficult conversation are usually straightforward, but the real key to confidently using them is mastering the inner game. True confidence comes from understanding our own beliefs around conflict, our response to strong emotions, and the skills to manage someone else’s emotions. Whether you avoid difficult conversations to keep the peace, freeze up when trying to negotiate with others or feel bad when responsible for giving bad news, this webinar will give you the skills to confidently communicate and assert yourself.

Attendees will learn

  • What makes difficult conversations so difficult?
  • The importance of preparing, and what truly matters in preparation and what doesn’t.
  • The components of the inner game that can limit your success, and how you can conquer yourself.
  • The 4 words that make any situation worse, and what to use instead.
  • A simple framework to guide the conversation and increase the probability of a collaborative outcome.
  • How to take your questions to the next level and use them strategically to get the information that can make a difference in the conversation.


Chris Wong started his career as a direct care staff for adolescents in a psychiatric inpatient hospital. He enjoyed working with the youth so much that he came to Boston University School of Medicine where he received his Master’s in Mental Health Counseling and Behavioral Medicine. After graduating, he worked as a licensed therapist in a variety of settings, including: an adolescent residential treatment center, outpatient clinics, and mobile crisis evaluations in the Boston and Cambridge area.

In 2016, he started work as a training manager at a non-profit child welfare agency, developing and facilitating trainings to support staff around clinical interventions, cultural humility, and any needed training support for programs. In 2019, he moved into a new role as Director of Employee Learning and Development, where he oversees leadership and career development for the organization. This includes training and coaching for leaders at all levels of the organization to both strengthen and build a leadership pipeline.

Chris is a certified executive coach and works with HR and L&D leaders around difficult conversations, conflict resolution, building powerful relationships, leadership development, productivity, leading change, diversity, equity, and inclusion.


Strategies and Tactics to Navigate Difficult Conversations with Confidence

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On-Demand Webinar Recording
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Hi, everyone, and welcome to today’s webinar, Tactics and Strategies To Navigate Difficult Conversations With Confidence, hosted by HRDQ-U and presented by Chris Wong.
My name is Sarah, and I will moderate today’s webinar. The webinar will last around one hour. If you have any questions or comments, please type them into the Questions box on your GoToWebinar control panel, and you can locate today’s handout under the Handouts drop-down on your control panel, as well.
And today’s webinar is sponsored by HRDQstore. HRDQ is based upon research of our published training tools. For more than 40 years HRDQ has been a provider of research-based training resources for classroom, virtual, and online soft skills training – to help retain employees and clients, make better decisions, improve performance, and much more.
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And I’d like to welcome today’s presenter, Chris Wong…
Chris started his career as a direct care staff for adolescence and psychiatric inpatient hospital. He enjoyed working with you so much, that he came to Boston University School of Medicine, where he received his master’s and mental health counseling and Behavioral medicine.
After graduating, he worked as a licensed therapist in a variety of settings, including an adolescent residential treatment center, outpatient clinics and mobile crisis evaluations in the Boston Cambridge area.
In 2016, he started work as a Training Manager at a non-profit child welfare agency, developing and facilitating trainings to support staff around clinical intervention, interventions, cultural humility, and any needed training support for those programs.
In 2019, he moved into a new role as Director of Employee Learning and Development, where he oversees leadership and career development for the organization. This includes training and coaching for leaders at all levels of the organization to strengthen and build a leadership pipeline.
Chris is a Certified Executive Coach and works with HR and L&D leaders around difficult conversations, conflict resolution, building powerful relationships, leadership development, productivity, leading change, diversity, equity, and inclusion. Thank you so much for joining us today, Chris.
Thanks for the warm welcome, Sarah. I appreciate being here.
And you’re gonna hear from me for the next 45 minutes, hour or so. What I wanna do is I actually want to start from hearing from all of you before we jump into this. So, I want to start with this, our first poll.
What makes difficult conversations so difficult for you?
So, Sarah, if we want to throw up that poll, I’d just love to see, are you worried about the other person getting angry or upset with you?
Do you not know what to say? You don’t know how to express yourself.
You don’t want to make the other person feel bad, or you’re worried about some possible negative consequences, like retaliation, which is reasonable, or something else, or all of the above. That that last one is really a catchall, so I’d just love to see kinda where everybody is sitting at currently and how you’re all feeling.
We have some responses streaming in here. I’ll give you about 10 or so more seconds to submit your answer.
OK, great, Let’s get the results up on the screen. Do you see this on your side, Chris?
Yes. Yeah. Great, awesome. So yeah, most of you, it’s a pretty good mix. I think a lot of people are worried about possible negative consequences like retaliation. I think that seems pretty reasonable. I think that seems right. And if you had to ask me, if you press me, I would actually say, for me, it’s all of these.
I actually, for a long time, I was worried about all of these consequences or all of these outcomes, because the reality is, I grew up in a culture, and I was raised in a family that didn’t have difficult conversations.
I we were taught to not talk about feelings in general. We were taught to just ignore conflict, and just talk about anything else.
So what does surprise to me when I went to work at a psychiatric hospital with teenagers? And all they wanted to do was talk about their depression, anxiety, wanting to hurt themselves, ***, all these things.
All these topics that I did, I grew up not talking about, and being explicitly told not to talk about those things, So I wish I could tell you, I learned really great skills while doing that.
I did, OK, but what really helped was when I went to become a therapist, then I really gained a ton of really valuable skills.
And I got really good, and confident at having these kind of conversations with teenagers.
The problem is, when you’re go to school to be a therapist, they don’t actually teach you anything about how to negotiate these same kind of conversations with adults, with other providers.
And now, I’m in a role where I have to negotiate competing priorities with government agencies, with other providers, with health insurance.
And so I had to quickly learn how to do all these things.
And by quickly, I mean over the course of four years, I had to get, OK, added enough to survive.
So, when I moved into this leadership development role, it presented, again, a whole new set of challenges of, now I have to, again, lead change, I have to negotiate competing priorities with lots of different organizational leaders, as well as people who are several steps above me on the hierarchy chain.
So how do I do that when I’m sitting in an HR and an L&D role when I don’t have any formal authority?
So I have to really learn how to influence. And so that’s why I dive deep into this, caught into this topic of difficult conversations, negotiation conflict resolution.
Because this has been my entire life, living, you know, working and talking about this stuff in my professional life, in my personal life.
These are things that I’ve had to learn over, decades of just kinda work.
So, this is a topic I really enjoy, and I hope that through the next, whatever amount of time, 45 minutes, you gain some value. You get some skills you can walk away with because I don’t want to talk about AP Theoretical. I want to talk about things that you can walk away with and do starting today.
No. So, today, I want to make sure we cover these four main things.
What makes high stress conversations so difficult?
Understanding, why are they so difficult for us, can give us insight into what’s our block, then, how do we actually prepare for these kind of conversations and prepare effectively?
Then, after that, I’ll take a quick break, See if anybody has any questions.
We’ll answer some questions, and then we’ll go into simple, powerful communication techniques, things you can say and do to build collaboration and co-operation in these kind of conversations.
And then, I want to give you a simple framework.
I want to give you a simple step by step guide that you can use to facilitate difficult conversations, Whether it’s in your personal life or professional life.
All right, So, let’s dive into it.
What makes difficult conversations so difficult anyway? And so, I want you to come with me, come to the questions box, and I want to just get a little more insight, so I know how to phrase everything today.
What types of conversations are difficult for you? So, come to the questions box, and I’ll be looking at it. I just wanna know what types of conversations are difficult for you.
Questions around money. I see that.
Giving feedback, I see feedback. Giving feedback, both up and down, and sideways, absolutely. That’s us. That can be tricky and difficult, for sure.
Yeah. So, I see all these, I see, I see some good questions. It’s.
When I’m not happy about something, Yep, That’s for sure. Performance related ones? Absolutely.
Telling someone they’re being rude off of that. I saw another question I was just talking about the other day was, how do you give feedback about somebody’s hygiene?
Right. So, these are awesome quite, I’ll try to incorporate these as we talk, but I want to just really dive into five reasons why conversations are difficult for us. What makes these kind of conversations difficult for us? So, the first one is, the first reason is we are invested in both the relationship and the outcome.
And by relationship, I don’t always necessarily mean that you want to be best friends with somebody, even, you know, especially if you’re in a professional environment, you just need to work with them, You’re not going to be friends or family with them necessarily.
What I mean by relationship is, you need to have some kind of ongoing rapport with that person in order to get things done.
So, whether they’re your boss, or your peer, or your employee, whatever it may be, you are invested in the relationship, It needs to be something that’s ongoing. You know, if it was something that was just one time, you never saw that person that again.
It’s pretty straightforward. It’s actually pretty easy to give that person feedback. because you don’t need to worry about that person ever again. However, because it’s ongoing, that raises the stakes.
The other thing that raises the stakes is the outcome. You care about the outcome. You’re trying to reach that goal, and it’s important to you, for whatever reason.
And so because, that’s important to you, you want to make sure you get it. So both of these things raise the stakes for you.
The second reason why conversations can be difficult, these types of conversations, is because vulnerability is hard talking about emotions as hardware tapping into your emotions. We’re talking about somebody else’s emotions. We’re talking about something personal to somebody at times.
It can be difficult because it’s hard to share your emotions And it’s hard for someone else to share their emotions and feel OK and safe to share what they really think, or feel, or need or want.
And the next one is, we’re all human, in the sense that we all have this fight, or flight, or freeze response in response to threats.
And when we get into these kind of conversations, we will feel that right away. So, we’ll feel that fight, response, we want to, we want to get angry, we want to yell, our blood starts boiling, our heart starts pumping really hard.
Or, flight response, we want to runaway as fast as possible. We want to end the conversation as soon as possible, or freeze up, We just straight up freeze.
We don’t even know what to say, we’re were frozen, We’re at a loss for words.
And I think, if you think back to any of those hard conversations that you’ve had, I can definitely imagine you’ve seen that before in your own response, in the responses of people talking to, you, know, whether they start, you bring somebody up, they start yelling at you, or they start arguing, or they just try to end the conversation as soon as possible.
Another reason why it’s so difficult is our minds.
The way our brains are wired, is just how just limits the way we think, you know, from a young age, the way we are taught to think of the world in a separate, in a very specific way.
And so, everything we do, we interpret the world through that lens.
I was taught to avoid conflicts, So, everything I see is when people are raising their voices, it reminds me of let’s avoid that as much as possible, so I will try to skip over that. I will try to change the subject. You know, the real problem is, like a path in the snow or a hiking path or any other path that in the dirt that you’ve ever walked in.
The When you get to the wind, the more you interpret situations like that, the more it becomes a well worn path, then the more becomes ingrained and it becomes the way we view the world. So we don’t like conflict and we think these kinds of things are difficult.
So, we don’t want to, we, we just automatically react that way.
So it’s not even that we are choosing it, right? It’s a lot of this is just hard wired into us. We’ve already been doing this for a long time.
And the last thing I think about is we just don’t have a framework. You know, you could feel really confident you could feel comfortable talking about emotions.
You just may not know how to guide the conversation in a way that’s productive.
You may be really comfortable sharing your opinions and your thoughts and what’s bothering you.
And you may not just have a framework of how to guide the conversation so that everybody can move through it in an inappropriate way.
So those are the five ways that five reasons, five main reasons why conversations are typically difficult. And it could you could just have one of those, or you could have multiples of those. But generally, you’ll have at least one of those lingering underneath you.
So those are why conversations are difficult.
The next step is really thinking through how can we effectively prepare for these kinds of conversations.
And so I want to ask another poll question.
So I want to ask another poll that will throw up there, thinking back to your last difficult conversation, how long did it take you to prepare for it? And I don’t mean, how long did it take you to think about it?
So Sarah, I don’t think that’s the right poll.
On the screen.
Let’s see.
Let’s have everybody type into the questions box there for this, That’s fine.
Yep, that’s fine. We can just type it into the questions box, but thinking back to your last hard conversation, how long did it take you to prepare for it. I don’t mean just think about it and stew about why it’s so difficult, or why the person’s not great.
I mean, how long did you actually prepare for what you’re going to say, or how you’re going to say it? Less than five minutes? between 5 and 10 minutes, between 10 and 30 minutes, between 30 minutes and two hours, or over two hours.
So, let’s see how long it took you to.
And it looks like we have a lot of C and D sprinkled in there.
Oh, great, I’ll sprinkle that as well. But CND seem to be like the most popular ones that are coming into that questions box there.
Well, you know what that I say, you are all doing great, because you are all doing great, because I think you should practice a lot.
I think the reality is a lot of us don’t spend enough time practicing for these things.
I asked a few people, in preparation for this, just, when I was practicing this presentation, They said, probably between 5 and 10 minutes, but they spent days doing about it.
They spent days stressing about it and be anxious about it.
But they only spent about 5 to 10 minutes preparing for it. So this group, you are all on top of things, That’s great.
What I wanted to do, was really just illustrate a few things just to, if you’re, if you’re not a person that likes to prepare a lot, is going from right to left.
Professional orchestra musicians spends over 50 to 60 hours a week, practicing for about six hours of concerts each week.
Division one, college football players, will spend close to 40 hours a week, if not more, practicing for a game. And practicing, I mean, by physical practice, but also meetings and game planning and preparation. They’ll spend close to 50 or 60, 40 to 50 hours, practicing for what amounts to be an hour of game time. Like, the game actually takes about three hours with commercials, but they’re only actually playing about an hour of that time.
You know I used to do martial arts and I did a couple of mixed martial arts tournament’s, boxer’s, UFC, fighters, and any kind of martial arts, tournament’s where you’re fighting will spend hours and weeks and months preparing for just one fight.
Boxers, UFC fighters have an hour fight. They’ll spend months preparing for that one fight in order to be ready for it. and that’s over 40 hours a week.
Physical work, stretching, sparring.
And there’s lots of nutrition on top of that.
I live in the Boston area and we’re getting ready for the Boston Marathon up here.
Any marathon, think about, if you run, you’ve spent hours preparing for this for race, right?
That’s about three hours, but you spent hours of weeks and months preparing and running for it.
So it’s really about making sure you practice, making sure you you prepare effectively.
So, I’d love to, Again, let’s go back to the questions box, because I want this to be a dialog is, you know, if you do prepare, what do you tend to do to prepare for difficult conversations.
And Sarah, I’m noticing I can’t see the answers, so I guess I’ll have to have you. tell me what’s going on here.
Let’s see, So we have, Mary said, still take no notes, role, play with others and breathing practice, and Cynthia, thank collecting the facts, talking through it in my head from John, preparing for disagreements.
I pray for him, Gina, speak out loud and ask others for input and feedback.
We have gathered data, say it over and over in my head, check my attitude beforehand. Roleplay, rehearse, if so many coming through here but I’ll read off to more Kim, said, write out what I want to say.
And David said, Ruminate over thing mmm hmm.
Yeah, I love the There’s a lot of people that are saying that they practice and role play. I love that. I think that’s one of the 1.
1 of the best ways you can prepare for it.
I’m gonna go over five different things you can do to prepare for difficult conversations, but I love that practicing out loud, and I’ll talk about that in a moment.
So that’s great for everybody, and definitely overthinking for sure. That happens to me too.
First thing you want to prepare first out of five ways is you want to really clearly define your goals for the conversation.
It needs to be clear, observable, and specific what you want. Do you want behavior change out of the person? Do you want perspective, change?
Do you want them to think of something differently, or do you just want events?
Is it possible that you just want to yell at the other person? Now, that’s not going to be productive. However, that’s still a goal, right? And so, you need to be clear. Because if you just want to yell, that’s not going to create behavior change. That’s two different things. But first is really thinking about what are your goals and being clear about what your goals are.
Also, the more, the better you can define what your goal is, the more you can keep things on track later on when they do get off track, or when they put their attendance being thrown around.
Second, you want to think about, how do you reframe your limiting beliefs.
Know, you want to think about those limiting beliefs that you were, we’re talking about what stops you from being successful in these kinds of conversations? And reframe them into something where you think about as an opportunity.
So, for instance, if you hate hearing the word, no, you’re bringing up things you want them to, again on your side, and you hate hearing the word, no.
It’s reframing it to think, you know, As instead of no, as the end of the conversation, I think, you know, as the beginning of the conversation, that’s something I’ve had to really get used to over the past 5, 6 years, is, instead of thinking of no, as that’s the end of the conversation, they don’t want to hear anymore.
I now think of hearing, though, as, this is, this is them telling me what their boundaries are and what their values are.
And that’s information for me to build on.
And that’s the starting point, Because I think we’ve all been in conversations where somebody will say yes, just to not really fall through, or they’ll say yes, not really believing it.
And we don’t want that, right? We want somebody to truly tell us what they think.
And so, when people say no, when they set a boundary, when they say that’s not what I believe, that’s helpful information. That’s them being truthful and honest, and I want that as opposed to them lying to me or being disingenuous.
What other limiting beliefs do you have about conflict, about difficult conversations? What assumptions are you making?
How can you reframe them and so that you think of these as opportunities, as opposed to barriers or hurdles?
The third thing I want you to really think about is learning how to control your emotions.
The name of the game is really controlling yourself, right? We’re spending a lot of time here just thinking about, how do we control ourselves? How do we control the flow?
It’s really about our emotions.
How do we reduce that fight or flight or freeze response in ourselves so that we can respond instead of React?
For me, if I hear somebody pushing back and I, my blood starts boiling, I know I need to take a deep breath, I’ll just take a deep breath.
And that’s it.
I can, that’s enough for me to stop and read and think through what I need to say next.
Some people I’ve talked to, they’ll hold a little sharp objects in their pocket, and thus squeeze that when they start getting anxious, or start getting angry about something. Because they know that, they can focus it on that, instead of just reacting how they want to, in the moments.
So whether it’s grounding, whether it’s mindfulness, meditation, yoga, it’s learning how to control your emotions in the moments.
You know, the next, the biggest thing you want to prepare is game planning, those logistics.
No, so, if you need to give feedback or deliver some kind of information with data, you need to gather that necessary information.
You know, giving a performance evaluation, You should have data about that, about that performance.
If somebody’s been late multiple times, you should have data about what that is, or how often that is, so it’s thinking about the necessary information, gather that, then understanding the dynamics.
Now, in a workplace, it’s very easy to see most of the time, right, if you’re, if you’re an individual contributor, or if you’re a frontline supervisor, and you’re talking to the CEO, Yeah, It’s very clear what the dynamics are there. What I encourage you to think about are the implicit power dynamics that are in there.
So, things like race, age, gender, marital status, Any of those kind of things that have a implied power dynamic, you want to think about how that looks and how that feels.
So, Even if you are, supervisor, know, if you’re a young supervisor, and you’re telling feedback to one of your direct reports, who is much older than you?
And it’s been there for a long time, that may not land the same way.
You know, same thing is if you are a female supervisor, and you’re talking to a male direct report, and they happen to have much more traditional views of kind of men and women, and power dynamics, right? It’s being aware of those dynamics and being intentional about how you’re using them. So if you’re in the majority power holder, is being aware of that. How does that look, Will that impact how they respond to you?
Then you want to write down and plan your scripts. I think some people mentioned that they write down their script. I think it’s a great idea.
Write down your script, say write down what you the points you want to hit, how you want to phrase certain things You want to be really clear if you were here with me, you would see that I have all these slides with like specific wording. I want to make sure I hit during certain slides Some negotiators I’ve talked to. They will also actually, right in queues to take a deep breath at certain times. They’ll say, take a deep breath Remember, do this.
Remember to take a beat.
Whatever it is, you need to remember and and slow the conversation down will be helpful for whatever is helpful in the scripts.
And so then, the last thing that a lot of people said that I really wholeheartedly agree with is rehearsing and roleplay.
I think almost all of us have this phenomenon of.
We’ll run through an argument in our head and we’ll say some will imagine ourselves saying something. Well, imagine the other person’s pushing back.
And then we’ll imagine ourselves saying something so wise and thought provoking that the other person has no choice but to listen to us.
I encourage you say it out loud. See how that sounds?
There’s something that’s different.
When you say words out loud, It gets processed differently in the brain, because you’re hearing it and you’re saying it now suddenly when you say it out loud, the words don’t sound right. The pacing sounds off, the tone, there. Your tone goes up and down and that’s way off. And so it’s important to rehearse and role play.
And again, some of you said, Find somebody you trust.
Yeah, find somebody you trust to role play, as the other person, and, and see what, how they could be pushing back and see what you could say in the in, in response. But the more you do this out loud, the more comfortable you feel?
No. I know a negotiator who recently had a few months ago, had a three minute presentation.
She spent 30 hours preparing what she would say in those three minutes.
Because it was high stakes, she couldn’t get anything wrong.
So she had to really write down what she was going to say and then pare it down and edit it and edit it to make sure it made sense in those three minutes.
Now, do you have 30 hours of spend to prepare for this?
I don’t, and you don’t, know, I practice this presentation multiple times out loud and got feedback on it.
But any kind of preparation is still helpful.
You know, any kind of rehearsing any kind of role playing will be so much more helpful than just thinking it through in your head.
So, let me pause there because I went through a whole bunch of stuff about why conversations are difficult. I went through this preparations skills. How to effectively prepare. I’d love to just check in what questions you have so far, if any, around anything I’ve said.
Yes, if you have questions, type them into that questions box there and we did have a question come through from Sonia who would like to know. What if the difficult conversation is time bound and you don’t have time for adequate preparation?
Yeah, I think that happens a lot, especially if we’re giving difficult feedback. So I think there’s still value in trying to figure out what is the goal?
Know, what is the goal that you’re trying to achieve?
And then what are the logistics of that conversation?
So you can pare it down. So, those main things, you need to know what the goal is, and then what are the logistics? When are you gonna have the conversation?
Do you need a effective data? Any kind of data you need to prepare?
And then just being aware of those power dynamics when, no matter how much time you have to prepare. I think those power dynamics are still important to keep in mind.
That’ll lead us into this next question from Linda, who would like to know if you could share a little bit more about the impact of marital status for regarding power dynamics.
Yeah. So, I think, I’ve seen, I guess, I’ve seen this play out in a few different ways.
You know, if, if there’s somebody who’s married and, or somebody who’s single and young talking to somebody who’s married with kids.
I’ve seen that dynamic play out where the person who’s married may not, you know, take the feedback of somebody who’s single and doesn’t have the same life experience, right? And you can I think you could also expand. That’s other life experiences.
It’s just the, it’s just the one example that I saw that I was bringing up.
So I hope that makes sense.
Then, this next question from Diane, who would like to know, is it helpful to go into a difficult conversation being detached from the outcome?
Yes and no?
I would say that depends on the goal. It depends.
You know, if I would say, for instance, if, if you’re talking to somebody in the workplace around, they’re using a lot of racial slurs, around microaggressions and you need to step in, yeah, there’s a specific outcome that needs to happen.
You can’t step away from it, right?
Or if you’re giving a a written warning to somebody, you can’t just step away from that. You need to give that, you know. So, part of that is determining some goals. You can be touched by some goals.
You can be open, and let’s collaborate, and let’s think about what we want to do.
And then there are some goals where you do need a specific outcome.
No, especially especially in the workplace, for sure.
And Tamara would like to know what happens if the other person shuts down.
Yeah. So let’s, I’ll actually save that for the next few sections, where we talk about how to facilitate the conversation.
So what to do if they shut down, what to do if they pushback. I think we’ll cover that in the next few sections.
So I’m going to do one more.
Yeah, one more question here from Mellody, who would like to know what are your tips for stopping the emotion from triggering? I often react so quickly that my frontal lobe catches up a few minutes later.
Yeah, so here’s a few things you can do, And this will actually go to the next few sections. But I think just because my background, I like talking about it, one, is, I think even when you’re calm, you should be practicing all these coping skills.
That’s the only way we can get better at it, you know you have to practice it before you’re even upset.
So throughout the everyday life is getting better at using coping skills to, to calm down.
Then, from there, you can find what helps you in the moments, when things start getting more and more triggering, you will find the specific techniques and skills that will help you slow down.
And then you can slow down there Also, you know, meditation, mindfulness, yoga, deep breathing, Coloring, drawing, obviously, not going to color or draw in the middle of a hard conversation, maybe, well, I don’t know.
But most of those things, we’re doing that in the end, when you’re calm, will give you the skillset and the confidence to use it when they’re when things are getting more triggering.
Then there’s also verbal things you can do in the, in conversations.
You can say, Let’s take a break, You could say, let me summarize, That will slow things down, if you just want to summarize everything that’s been going on so far.
But, these two questions are, I think, are very similar also, how do we slow things down in the middle of the conversation, Which I’ll get to in the next few sections.
So that’s good. I like these questions. That means everybody’s paying attention to me so far, you haven’t sued me out yet. Very good.
So, let’s jump into it. Simple, powerful, communication techniques.
This is actually going to be a shorter section only because they are simple, they’re things that you probably already do. You may not even do it intentionally but you’d do this.
And so, it’s, I’m gonna go through it before I go through it, I’d love to just come back to the questions box. I’d love for you to share with me. What are things that people say that annoy you or ruffle your feathers in high stress conversations?
So what are things that other people say that make it even worse for you with hard conversations?
We have a lot of people saying, when people say, calm down, Connie says when someone says no.
Melody says, when someone says you always mm, Nikolas, says, Don’t take this the wrong way but yes, so many if you need to calm down. My *** off. Linda says you should.
Jennifer says, you’re not listening.
Hmm hmm, hmm hmm hmm, oh when someone raises their voice time out, can you get the point?
I didn’t do it with all due respect to be on. Oh, there’s so many coming through that gives us a nice palate there.
Yeah, to be honest, I, I always think that’s a funny one, because people even say it in regular Low stress conversations, I’ll be honest with you.
And I think that’s a weird phrase to say, because does that mean everything else you say is typically a lie? I don’t know. That’s just me, personally. Well, there’s a lot here. You’re right, Don’t say relax. Tones say you should. You always know that blaming stuff.
What I want to do is highlight four text that we all do verbally, and what to avoid, you know, so, And there’s lots more.
So instead of talking, you know, even just basic. Instead of talking.
Just use more silence.
A lot of us are uncomfortable with silence.
It’s difficult, too.
Just let everything hang out there.
You will feel the pressure, I feel a pressure of, somebody wants me to say something or talk, and so I encourage you, use silence, Ask a question, reflect something, summarize, then just let us sit there.
Or if they start saying something, they say something they talk, they yell, whatever it is.
Don’t say anything. Just sit there.
You know, obviously watch your facial expressions and your body language.
It’s just helpful to have that silence because number one, some people are internal processors.
No, I’m external, so that means when we’re talking, I like to talk about my ideas out loud. Some people don’t.
Some people need tons of process internally, they think about it, they reflect, and then they come back, so, given that silence helps allow them time to do that.
Giving silence allows people who are upset time to blow off that steam, so that they can then join in the conversation.
And silence, because it’s uncomfortable.
It could, it could encourage the other person to continue talking, which is what you want. You want them to say something to move the conversation forward, especially if you’re stuck. You don’t know what to do.
The next thing.
But or however, no, I’m not a racist, but I’m not a sexist but we’ve all heard that and you know the next thing I’m gonna say is either racist or sexist.
Instead of saying but are however some of you even said that rough that, that annoys you use where it ends.
Because every time you use the word, but you’re saying that everything that came beforehand is not true, explicitly, and implicitly, you’re implying everything that came before that’s not true.
Listen, I get it, you’re upset. You feel like the situation is unfair, but we still gotta do it.
Know all that, goodwill, you’ve just built up by trying to reflect and understand their feelings, and label their feelings and summarize.
It’s all taken away by saying, but.
so instead, use end.
Think about, in your regular life, how many times do you use, But even in this current, even in this presentation, I use, but a few times, and that’s OK.
You know, it’s just about what are you.
What message are you trying to convey in high stakes conversations using ends is much more helpful because you are trying to convey that both sides can be true.
Listen, I get it. I know that it’s unfair for you, and you feel like you’re being singled out, and this is also something that we have to figure out a solution to.
No. Number one, it softens what’s coming after that.
It’s also you’re subtly acknowledging that both sides can be true, so their feelings can be true, and your feelings can be true, because they are.
Everybody’s feelings can be true and valid, and that’s OK. Everybody’s perspectives can be OK.
It’s really about not not shutting down their their train of thought. Now, I’m not saying that and is going to suddenly they’ll hear that and they’ll say, You know what? You’re right. I agree with you 100%.
It’s one of those things that really gets you closer to that, the outcome you’re looking for. You know, it’s just a step in the right direction. Putting a a penny of the big piggy bank, right?
So, I I know that in lot of conflict resolution or healthy relationship discussions is using instead of you and I agree with that. Don’t blame the other person. Don’t say you always, you should stay away from those things.
I also want to encourage you, too, instead of saying, I want to just switch and try to use we as much as possible.
How much can use we, language? We can solve this problem because you’re really trying to align yourself with them.
You too are not enemies, however, we are trying to solve this problem.
one of my favorite mindsets to think about is the other problem. The other person is not the problem. The problem is the problem we need to solve this problem together.
How can we do that together? So using more we language, using more language, definitely not not using new language.
It’s using more, We saw that we can work together and we can solve this problem.
The last thing I want you to stay away from is why Don’t use Y, because it just seems accusatory siems interrogative, right?
Instead, I want you to focus on the basic W questions, who, what, how, when, where, basic questions to understand what’s happening. So instead of saying, Why are you doing this?
So say, What is happening here.
What’s causing this, what’s leading to this, what are the barriers here for you?
Those kind of questions can really open up more doors and it’s not gonna be seen as accusatory or interrogative, right?
So these are just four basic things I wanted to go through, because, again, as you’ll notice, it’s just about all of these are skills that you just need to use in order to build more goodwill and collaborations.
It’s less blaming less trying to events, which, again, eventing is a goal you can vent, just be clear. That’s not going to get the same goal as collaboration and problem solving.
So, now, what I want to focus on this last section is really a simple framework.
Because, again, you could feel super confident you, you could feel super confident having these hard conversations.
You’re like, this is great, I don’t mind talking about emotions.
I’m in control of my own fight, flight, or freeze response, I’m perfectly happy when people push back, That’s OK.
You also need a framework, you need to know the steps in order to guide the conversation from beginning all the way to the end.
And so, to illustrate that, how to start it.
I’m going to start with this example.
So, imagine that you are buying a new car. Imagine that you are buying this new car on the screen, this new Toyota.
You go into the dealership, and you see the dealer has this car for $30,000, so I’m gonna have ask Sarah, if you want to, could you put up the poll here for this?
So if you are, we’re in the dealership, and this dealer had this car listed for $30,000, and you wanted to negotiate the best deal for yourself, what would your counter offer?
zero dollars.
Between 10 and $20,000, or between $50,000.
And, again, you can take a few moments here to submit your answer.
We’ll give you about 15 or NaN here, and I’ll show the results on the screen.
OK, and five more seconds, if you haven’t ended your answer, OK, great, now I’ll get those results up on the screen.
And, Chris, do you see those on your side? Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, This is exactly how most people response between $50,000. Some of you brave souls said zero dollars.
If you really wanted to have the best deal for yourself, like the best deal, you should have offered zero dollars logically. Now, most of us will offer between 20 and $30,000. It’s because of a cognitive bias called anchoring.
It’s a negotiation and skill, and sales technique, where whatever number is first thrown out, that’s an anchor that’s a benchmark by which you and all of us will base all of our other decisions off of.
Now, we said between 20 and $30,000, because they set the anchor as $30,000.
If the car was $100,000, you would not have said between 20 and $30,000, you would have said between $8.1 million as your counter-offer, that’s the power of having anchors.
And just like anchors in a sales or negotiation context, you can do the same thing with how you start the conversation.
How you start.
This kind of conversation sets the tone and anchors it, and is the benchmark by which you have the rest of the conversation.
And that’s why it’s so important to how you start.
So, a sample way of starting these kind of conversations is thank you for agreeing to meet with me and talk with me.
I wanted to talk because there’s been something on my mind, and I know we can find the resolution that will work for the both of us.
Now, the specific wording is not important. You can modify it for your, your own personal style, your own situation, whatever it is.
I just want you to be aware of the principles of why it’s laid out this way.
The first sentence, thank you for agreeing to meet with me.
It’s important to start with, thank you for agreeing to meet with me because you need to emphasize their choice and autonomy.
You want to emphasize that they have control on the situation as much as possible.
Because if they feel like you’re cornering them, if they feel like you’re forcing them into this conversation, they’re gonna be on defensive right away. So they’re not gonna listen, or their senses are going to be heightened. They’re going to be in fight, flight or freeze mode right away.
The more you can assuaged that, the more you can lessen that, right away.
The more that they can engage in the conversation.
So that’s why you start with thank you. So you can say thank you, I appreciate it. Whatever it is, you want to acknowledge that it was their choice to meet with you, because it is their choice unless you physically held them and forced them to talk to you.
I wanted to talk because it’s playing my mind.
Now, whatever it is, it’s just being really clear, because I’m sure all of us had had this situation where our boss comes to us and says, says to you, Chris, we need to talk.
I don’t know about you. But when I hear that, I immediately think I’m getting fired that day. I’m more I’m already packing up all my stuff before I get there, because I think I’m going to be fired.
And it’s just, I think it’s just me thing, because in terms of, even if somebody’s new to the organization, they, they were hired a day ago. If they said, that’s me, I’d still feel like I’m getting fired. It doesn’t matter.
All I know is, it’s important to be clear and direct upfront.
What do you want to talk about?
The more clarity you can provide, the less they can be anxious about. What do they want? What do you want to talk about?
You’ll notice I use, and instead of, but, and I know we can find the resolution, and you’ll notice I just, I’ve said, we, we can find the resolution That would work for the both of us. So, again, same concept. You want to find we as much as possible.
Use an opening statement just like this. Follow these principles to set the tone right away from the beginning.
We are working together.
It’s on this not, I’m talking to you or I’m yelling at you about this, you know. Secondly, you want to set the ground rules.
It’s actually pretty important to set boundaries on the conversations so that the other person feels psychologically safe to engage in the conversation.
No. Now, you can do this 1 of 2 ways, you can do it formally. If you have lots of time.
Go ahead, sit down and say, what, what would help you feel comfortable in this conversation? What rules do we do, we need to set?
Go ahead and set those. That’s really helpful. For some of us, and for some of you, I think you mentioned the questions, we may not have time.
Sometimes, we’re hard pressed for time, or sometimes it just feels weird especially if, if I’m talking to my wife, I’m not necessarily say elicit that and talk through some rules, I may do this instead.
Listen, I hope we can talk openly and honestly today, please feel free to stop me if I say something that makes you feel uncomfortable.
That way, we can pause and talk about it together. How does that sounds?
Again, I’m just setting some opening rules about talking openly, talking, Honestly, please feel free to stop me.
I want the other person to feel an equal part of the conversation. Again, I don’t, I’m trying to reduce any kind of dynamic where they, where I may be perceived as higher than them.
If I say something, it makes me uncomfortable, feel free to stop me.
No, I want them to feel comfortable enough to interrupt me. That’s actually a good thing.
If they, if the interrupt me, in my minds, now, it’s different, if they, if they see themselves as over higher power than me, and then, I need to find the way to make sure that they are comfortable me interrupting them as well.
But that way, we can pause and talk about it together.
And then this last part is important, how does that sounds this sentence?
This question, this agreement, is important, because you want to get agreement from the beginning, the more you can get agreement from the beginning is saying, yes, that’s a small win. Those small wins can snowball into bigger wins.
So, you’re trying to get the small wins, so that especially if you get stuck later, you can come back to this.
You can say, Hey, listen, we’re stuck here. I don’t know what the best way forward.
However, I know that earlier we were able to find some agreement, we’re able to find some common grounds, so I think we can do this.
So, this is what, this is the importance of getting their agreement. Again, getting agreement just helps them feel a part of the conversation, or an equal partner in the conversation.
You’re saying the ground rules, and you’re getting their buy in from the beginning. All of this is about getting buy in from the beginning right away.
From there, you actually move into exploring their priorities and needs, so you’re asking questions to understand why they believe the way they believe, why they’re behaving, the way they’re behaving.
What makes them do this? What makes them tick to do this right?
And I’m encouraging you, move past between what they first, say, move past what the surface is, a move to below the surface, like an iceberg, because that’s what really drives our behavior.
So, if me and my wife are arguing because she, once again, to get a real Christmas tree, and I want to get an artificial tree.
And I were both adamant and I say, Listen, I don’t want to deal with insects, or bugs, or sap, falling on the ground that she’s like now, but that’s Christmas.
And that’s how we know that’s just really smells like Christmas.
That’s great.
We can argue, for hours, just debating on what makes sense for our house or not.
If I then ask what makes us important, and I take time to explore, then maybe she starts explaining, Well, listen, remember her? Her dad passed away a few years ago and he used to when she was a kid.
He used to always get a fresh Christmas tree, so she wanted to reminds herself of her christmas’s when she was a kid with him.
I’m not gonna say no to that. And I understand that that makes total sense. That’s much more reasonable than me just not wanting the cleanup.
It’s really about, Can you explore past the surface and understand the needs and priorities?
Again, this is why that vulnerability is hard, and why you need to access that.
Because that’s how we generally will make lots of our decisions emotionally, We make and there’s lots of research that shows we can, we make our decisions emotionally first?
And then, we rationalize it after the fact.
So, explore what their True needs and priorities are, understand them first.
And this. The more you can compassionately do this, the more that they’re going to be willing to listen to you if you do this.
After you do that, then you actually have to share your own priorities and needs.
You can summarize, say, Listen, this is what I’m hearing you saying. These are your needs, These are your priorities, is what you’re really focused on.
Then you could share your priorities and needs.
No, I think some people go too far in the other direction and just focus on the other person’s priorities and needs.
And that’s not helpful, right?
If you just talk the entire time that’s a monolog, that’s not helpful. Same thing if they talk the entire time that’s not helpful. That’s a monolog.
So that’s where it’s important for you to share your prayers and needs.
I understand, this is your priority. This is what you’re feeling thinking, needing.
This is also what I need. This is what I’m needing out of this situation. I need you to do this differently, or I need this to happen differently.
From there, and that’s, that’s not a very long thing, because you already know what your priorities and needs are.
Hopefully, at this time, then, you invite them to solve the problem with you. That’s collaborative problem solving.
The goal is to have them be a part of the solution so that they believe in the solution as well.
So, it’s as simple as I’m wondering what solutions would be possible here that meet both of our needs.
You can just use that, and then allow them to join the conversation, allow them to come up with solutions, and you need to have the integrity here to, if they come up with a solution that meets your needs, that doesn’t meet their needs.
You gotta have the integrity to say, listen, that sounds like a great solution. And that meets my needs for sure. However, I’m concerned that it doesn’t meet your needs.
Is there anything else we can do here that would meet both of our needs?
No. That’s that’s that kind of honesty. That makes a big difference and builds that goodwill. So they’re willing to listen and engage and continue conversing with you.
You know, and so a lot of this is the, the more you can focus on these steps, the more you can create that sense of goodwill.
The more they’re willing to engage in, the more they’re going to be able to listen and hearing what you need to say.
And then at the end, you just want to focus on gratitude.
You want to acknowledge it’s hard. These conversations will always be hard, no matter how much you prepare.
Earlier, I told you, I used to fight.
I can’t tell you anytime before I sparred or anytime I went to a match, leading up to it, My heart was beating so hard. I thought I was gonna have a heart attack.
I would try to think of any excuse possible to get out of it.
And once I got into it once the first few punches were thrown, my heart rate was fine. I was back into it. I was ready to focus. I was able to do it.
There’s lots of research around UFC, fighters, and boxes, that so same thing, their heart rates are way up high at the beginning, and then after the first round, their heart rates are at a rate reasonable pace.
So it’s OK to express gratitude, listen, I appreciate it’s difficult for you. It’s, it’s not easy. I know this wasn’t easy for you, and I really appreciate your patience and willingness to hear me out. I’m really excited about where we ended on this and where we’re headed next.
Express that gratitude because it’s not easy, you know. Share that with you, with each other. So, doing that with each other is helpful.
I will be really honest, that second line, but I’m really excited about where we are headed next.
Obviously, feel free to, to modify this for your own use.
You know, if, I’m talking to my wife about a hard conversation, I’m not going to use that line, but, if I’m talking about it at a works thing, where we’re doing project management. I’m, I’m going to use that.
No. So, feel free to use what’s, what’s right? Is really the principle that makes more sense.
Expressing that gratitude, acknowledging that it wasn’t easy, no.
So, what I’d love to do before I close up and ask answer some more questions is, I’d love for you to think about, let’s see, kind of what’s come to the questions box with me, and then, what’s one skill from today that you want to take away and start implementing immediately?
What’s something that stood out to you? What’s what’s takeaway you’re having?
So Mary said, I love it, and we’ll use the anchoring tone setting, along with customized ground rules that makes sense for the other person and the situation Amy said, no buts use at use end.
Danita said, Changing how I begin the conversation, Melody said, Exploring their goals.
Johnny says how to respond when someone immediately shuts down.
Aubrey says, Create a sense of goodwill.
Allen says a strength of silence.
Angie, again, says using and instead of, but, Dan also likes the anchoring technique, as well as this Chelsea, Roles and Playing role. Anchoring, sharing gratitude. We have so many great responses coming in here from the audience.
Yeah. That’s awesome. I love that, and you know, I’d love to continue this conversation. We’re limited by just having an hour here, so again, you can feel free to e-mail me at anytime I’d love to continue this conversation. You catch me my socials there.
And also, I do have a course around this where we dive deeper into this. So you can check out my, my website, down at the bottom there, my leadership potential dot com.
But, again, even if you just want to talk, I’m happy to have this conversation. I love talking about this stuff, just because I’ve had to dive into it for so long.
And this is just my life.
So, I’d love to spend the last few minutes just seeing what kind of questions that people still have. What didn’t I answer that you still would love an answer about.
Great. So, we have a lot of questions come through, so we’ll get through as many as we can today with our remaining time that we have together.
And this first one comes, it goes back to anchoring. And when you were using the car example, from Lindsay and Lindsey said, My problem is that I don’t use anchors, I just do what people want. I wouldn’t negotiate the car at all.
That just wouldn’t be an option I. And I also do that in everyday life.
So, do you have any comments on that?
Is there, I guess, is there a question on how to get better at it? Or, is there just just more of an observation there?
Yeah, Like, what tips would you have for someone to maybe be able to better that skill?
I think just practice, I think practice is always a, is the key there. And those two things, I guess, practice is, number one, practice, say, how you would start that conversation. How you would anchor in the conversation.
The second thing is this exploring what are your own biases, what’s what’s stopping you from getting there? What are the hurdles that are getting there?
And how can you reframe it so that, instead of thinking of it, as you don’t want to, whatever reason that’s stopping you, whatever the hurdle is, whatever stopping you, how can you reframe it to think of it as an opportunity, as opposed to some kind of negative thing that you’re doing?
Then, Cynthia would like to know: how can you use these techniques in a group setting?
In a group setting, I think that’s where ground rules make even.
Or even more important, moreso than one-on-one grant in a group setting, you have to engage everybody in that ground rules. What ground rules will make it comfortable for everybody to participate?
Usually, in a group, especially if I’m in a group, I’m usually doing some kind of talk about some kind of diversity equity inclusion topic.
I may say, what will help you feel psychologically safe?
We’ll talk about this, and, you know, allow people to share and then kind of moving and then making sure people understand what the goal of the conversation is.
But, I think the key there is really make sure the ground rules are set, that everybody agrees on, so it has to be more formal and informal.
And Wilson, and we also had a couple of others asked this, as well, and would like to know, how do you set the stage, or set the ground rules to make it safe? when you’re talking to someone who has positional power over you?
Yeah, so OK, so we didn’t talk about this is when you’re moving up, when you’re talking up.
It requires you to ask a lot more questions, as opposed to saying it.
So, it’s, it’s, it would sound like, I’d like to talk about this, and I want to make sure that both of us are heard, Do you feel it’s a good time to talk about it? Do you feel comfortable talking about this? Is there anything you need so that we can talk about this now together? So, you could still go through those steps. It just requires more questions, you have to ask more questions so that they feel even more engaged in the conversation with you.
Great, and this is another popular question. This one’s specifically here, coming from Kim.
What if there is resistance from the other person and being open to feedback and working together to come to a solution mm? So, then, there’s a few things you can do.
Number one, is, you can either think back to what’s your original goal to give that feedback, just kind of being realistic, what your goal is, thinking through what are their alternatives, kind of, what are some secondary or tertiary goals that you’re comfortable with that you can live with? How flexible are you willing to be?
Taking a break?
You can always say, Let’s take a break. It seems like this is a difficult conversation for you.
You could also, I would there’s my first goto, I actually just explicitly state what I’m observing.
So I say, listen, it seems like this is a hard conversation for you.
What are you noticing?
I actually like to bring it up directly to them to see if they notice.
And then generally then they’ll tell me why it’s hard for them.
They feel persecuted. They feel like they’re singled out. They feel it’s unfair. That’s a good. That’s a good avenue for me to explore.
Know, I can talk about that with them, and I’m comfortable talking about, OK. Let’s talk about why it’s feels unfair for you.
Let’s talk about why it feels like you’re being singled out.
Let’s see if we can explore that.
Again, it’s really diving deep into what’s causing it.
And then another thing is you might just want to get a mediator. It might be possible. Sometimes you just want to get a mediator. If you’ve tried all these other things, you’ve tried talking about it multiple times.
You’ve taken breaks, you’ve come back to it and they’re still upset and they still don’t want to talk about it.
Maybe sometimes you do need a mediator or a neutral third party to sit in the conversation with you.
And this next question here is from Emily, who would like to know if you have any tips on these hard conversations with strangers?
With strangers, I guess I’m wondering what kind of conversation that would be.
I would say they still, I would say they still apply. All of these things apply. It’ll just be a little more relationship building at the beginning.
So you’d want to spend more time on that intro. You want to spend more time on the ground rules.
And even before exploring their priorities and needs, I think spend even more time sharing, kind of exploring who they are as a person, trying to figure out what values are important to them?
You know, what’s their communication style? Do they process internally or externally?
Do they want to be direct? … do they like indirect communication? …
So, I think it just spends spending more time at the beginning, exploring who they are and kind of what they value.
Great, and then we’ll answer one more question today, and that question is gonna come from Jacob and Jacob would like to know, Are there behaviors that would indicate it’s a good idea to postpone a difficult conversation?
I would say, yes and no, part of it depends on your comfortable … with emotions. You know, getting comfortable with the heart emotions is, is key.
I think the some of the limits may be, like, if there feeling like they got hurt themselves or hurt others, that’s usually a pretty good barrier. Is it become physically aggressive? I definitely would want to disengage and do something else at that point.
So, those, kind of, I would say, those are the, kind of, like, real barrier, real things.
Other than that, I think it’s just kind of your own personal, what you feel comfortable with. What do you feel comfortable managing? What do you need more help with?
You know, if you do need more help and more practice, that’s OK. You get a third party, again, there, get a trusted mentor, or get a coach in there with you, and see how you can get better at that skill set.
Great, and with that here, that’ll bring us to the end of our questions today or Q&A today. It brings us to the top of the hour here. Thank you so much, Chris, for your time today. Thanks for having me. This was awesome.
Yes, and thank you all for participating in today’s webinar. The session was super engaging. We had great comments and questions coming through from the audience. We appreciate your time and I look forward to seeing you in next week’s webinar.
Have a great day, everyone.

Listen to the podcast

In this episode we’ll be delving into the webinar, Strategies and Tactics to Navigate Difficult Conversations with Confidence. We’ll discuss the changes happening in the L&D space, the exciting projects our guest, Chris Wong, is working on, and the key takeaways from the webinar. We’ll also dive into specific content-related questions, such as how to handle difficult conversations with limited preparation time, approaches for conversations with someone in a position of power, the value of bringing in a third-party, and strategies for setting ground rules when the other party is resistant. Get ready for a power-packed episode filled with practical wisdom and actionable advice to navigate those tough talks with confidence.
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