“The Women’s Edge supports systematic, sustained progress for women into leadership roles throughout the business community.”


Elizabeth Hailer, CEO

“There aren’t many places that you can go where the only agenda is for you to be successful.”

CEO forum member

“The Women’s Edge supports systematic, sustained progress for women into leadership roles throughout the business community.”

Elizabeth Hailer, CEO

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“The Women’s Edge supports systematic, sustained progress for women into leadership roles throughout the business community.”

Elizabeth Hailer, CEO

Two Businesswomen Meeting Around Table In Modern Office

Difficult conversations are a part of nearly every aspect of our lives, from our careers to family life and our social and community life. But these discussions don’t have to be something you dread. Use these tips from experts Janet Altman, Laura Berger, and Lindy Smiley to help you better navigate crucial conversations and turn them into a positive experience for all parties involved.

1. Use a Positive Frame of Reference

When entering a difficult or heated situation, we’re often compelled to focus on the negative. According to Laura Berger, Leadership Consultant, Executive Coach, reframing the situation to a more positive viewpoint can make all the difference in the outcome.

“It’s human nature to focus on the problem,” she says. “So when initiating a difficult conversation, instead of looking at it as something negative, frame it as an outcome. How do you want the situation to be different, and how can we get there?”

2. Plan Ahead

Difficult conversations are innately emotional. But as tempting as it may be to respond right away, allow yourself to take a step back and reflect, plan, and prepare before engaging with the other person or group.

Senior Vice President and Global Head of Human Resources at Starwood Property Trust Lindy Smiley suggests, “scheduling a time to talk to that person so you can gather your thoughts and go about it in a less emotional way. At the end of the day, it’s about getting the best that you can out of that person and focusing on the issue at hand.”

If you plan to ask your boss for a raise, for example, you don’t want to walk into his or her office on the fly. “This takes preparedness,” says Laura Berger. “It’s a focus on return on investment and your contribution to the company and its bottom line. Go in with a spreadsheet of these accomplishments.”

Janet Altman, Principal and Marketing Director for Kaufman Rossin, agrees. “I like to make sure I’m demonstrating why I need a raise in a business sense,” she says. “Prepare for six months by continuing to subtly let people know you’re going above and beyond so they remember it when it comes time to have this conversation.”

3. Start with the Facts

Similarly, our experts agree that leading with the facts of any given situation is the best way to enter into a hard discussion with a coworker, boss, friend, or anyone else in your life.

“Start with the facts,” Janet says, “then tell your story and explain the way you see the situation. Then, you ask for the other person’s story and input. Really listen to what they have to say. Then talk collaboratively about what you could both try to make the situation better.”

4. Enhance the Other Person’s Power

“Conflict is usually a question of positioning,” Laura says. “So if you don’t seem to be in agreement, enhance the other person’s power by asking a question that you don’t have an answer to, as opposed to asking a question to ‘lead the witness’ to help position yourself. This creates more of an equal playing field.”

5. Watch Your Language and Tone of Voice

Uncomfortable topics or challenging situations can be made worse with the wrong word choice, tone of voice, or energy. Use tip #2 above to first take your own emotion out of the situation and plan ahead so can make the confrontation as agreeable and productive as possible.

“When you start a difficult conversation,” Lindy says, “it’s okay to acknowledge the fact that you need to talk about something that’s uncomfortable. This makes you a little more vulnerable and can make the other person feel less uncomfortable about it.”

Lindy suggests using phrases like:

  • “I really want you to be successful, so…”
  • “It’s been noticed that…”
  • “There’s a perception that…”

Above all, resist the urge to scream or raise your voice, even if the other person is doing so. “Remain calm under all circumstances,” Janet says. Shift the energy to a calmer, more collected state, or suggest picking up the conversation once everyone has had a chance to think it through.

6. Be Straight Up

In some cases, being very open and honest in the moment can work in your favor. Lindy says that using humor in the right circumstance can help to take the discomfort out of a touchy subject.

For younger employees who may not realize that taking their shoes off or clipping their nails at their desk, for example, aren’t appropriate, humor and a lighter tone can be the best way to get your point across without embarrassing them.

Bottom Line

Whether we like it or not, difficult conversations will inevitably pop up. Keep these tips in mind the next time you find yourself faced with a conflict at work, home, or among friends.

Please join us next month on Friday, November 30, 2018 at 12pm ET for our next “Just Ask TCI” on “building wealth.” These monthly virtual programs are free and open to the public, so invite your friends!