7 Necessary Steps When You Need to Have a Difficult Conversation

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I once Tweeted, “The hardest conversation is often the most needed.”

It was as a result of my counsel to another pastor in a leadership setting. He knew he needed to approach an issue, but he wasn’t sure how to do so. I understand. If it were easy we wouldn’t struggle to do it.

I find myself encouraging those type conversations often. Apparently, from the retweets and direct messages I received it’s a frequent issue. In relationships, there are consistent needs to have difficult conversations. Often leaders, spouses, and friends avoid them, but it’s often to the detriment of the relationship.

I decided to expand beyond Twitter length encouragement.

Do you need to have a difficult conversation?

Here are 7 necessary steps you’ll need to take:

Conviction

There first needs to be some sense of urgency towards having the conversation. People who have frequent hard conversations just to have hard conversations are obnoxious at best. Hard conversations, where you challenge someone, confront a situation or address sensitive issues, should be rare – not normal. Make sure you know it’s something you must do in order to improve the situation or protect the relationship.

Prayer

You should pray as a part of the conviction process also. And, you should pray after you know you are moving forward. Pray for God’s favor on the conversation, open hearts for you and the other party, and God’s resolution to be realized. And, enter the conversation in a spirit of prayer.

Notes

Jot down your main points you are trying to make. You might read THIS POST. It’s about how to write a sensitive letter, but the points in it will help you prepare for a face-to-face conversation also. (And, there are times a letter is best.) You want to be prepared. You want to remember your thoughts clearly and not from emotion. The main issues (as you can read in the post) are to be factual, to the point, but kind, truthful, and helpful. Be willing to assume blame where needed.

Setting

Time and place are critical in difficult situations. You should never “attack” someone in ways that will embarrass them more or add unnecessary stress to the situation. You shouldn’t have a hard conversation when you’re being motivated simply by emotion. You should find neutral ground. Be strategic with your when and where.

Rehearsal

Go through your notes and your part of the conversation. Imagine if someone was having this conversation with you and how you would respond. You can’t determine how they will respond, but you can rehearse how you will respond. The more you do this the better you’ll be able to control your emotions when the time comes.

Action

Do it. You need to plan the when, as stated above, but the longer you wait the harder and more awkward it will be. Have the conversation while you’re prepared and in a prayerful mindset about the situation.

Follow up

Most likely the conversation won’t end with the conversation. You will need to check in with the person, send them a follow up email, phone call or even another meeting. You may need to reiterate your care for them personally even after the conversation. The Scripture is clear – as much as it depends on us we are to live at peace with everyone. If nothing more is needed between you and the person, at least take time to think through how the conversation went so you can learn from it and be better prepared for future difficult conversations. You can be assured of additional opportunities.

I hope this helps. Don’t avoid the hard conversations. They are often the most needed. But, always be wise about having them.

What steps or advice would you add?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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13 thoughts on “7 Necessary Steps When You Need to Have a Difficult Conversation

  1. Hi Ron,

    Thank you for the blog. You are 100% correct in stating that some of the most needed conversations are the difficult ones. I also think your 7 tips for advice are great. One other thing that I try to do is focus on the action and results that led to the conversation, and I try not to bring the person. I don't want to make the conversation to seem like an attack on the person, but I do want to address the actions, results, and consequences.

    Kind regards,
    Joe Croarkin

  2. Give special attention to listening, because if you show laziness while other person speaking, it will create great irritation to other person. Besides this, only through proper listening you can able to continue the conversation without any breaks.

  3. Jotting down notes is a great tip. Especially when it's a hard/difficult conversation, chances are that you will forget some of the important things you need to share.

  4. Awesome post. I've clipped into my Evernote as a resource for training my summer staff supervisors. I'd like to add to make sure you commit to going the last 10% in the conversation. To many times conflict keeps us from saying everything we need to say. We'll go 90% of the way in a conversation, then stop short. Knowing the difference between what you NEED to say and WANT to say and shouldn't is the key.

  5. Wow, great instruction, Ron. If I were to add anything I'd say "check your ego." I need to make sure that I don't have a personal agenda – to get even, to vent, to humiliate, whatever. Also, I need to make sure I have an exit path that leads to peace. "In so far as is possible with you, be at peace with all men."