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Stepping into Difficult Conversations with Ease


Over the past few weeks in my coaching practice, there have been constant reminders of how we avoid what feels like an uncomfortable conversation, and the consequences of that avoidance. The need for the conversation seldom goes away, it often grows in magnitude with auxiliary consequences such as:

  • Others being brought into the conversation
  • Broken trust, damaged relationships,
  • Stalled projects,
  • Progress sabotaged, and
  • Creates ongoing anxiety for everyone.

It reminds me of a stew bubbling away on the stove, getting thicker and thicker, until you move to action and turn it off. And you are accountable to ‘turn it off’, to have that difficult conversation to resolve whatever conflict is getting in the way of success.

Research tells us leaders can spend anywhere from 14% to 40% of their time resolving conflict. What is that costing the organization? What might it contribute to the organization? In this research, they found conflict often creates positive results (if we step into it); the ideas and conversation generated are richer and achieve greater results. So how do we change our thinking from difficult or uncomfortable conversations to easy, healthy conversations? One word: Preparation. No matter who your favourite author is, or what ‘difficult conversation model’ you follow, all of the experts tell us, it is always about preparing for the conversation, reflecting on what is important, sifting facts from emotion, focusing on the intended result and spirit of intent.

In our coaching practice we use a tool we refer to as our R.E.S.U.L.T.S. Model. I’d like to share with you an easy preparation process, based on this model, to design healthy conversations in less than fifteen minutes of your time. Consider the following checklist and work through it one step at a time to frame the difficult conversation you are avoiding:


What stakeholder relationships are important to consider in this scenario? How do you maintain or build these relationships in this conversation? What is your spirit of intent? What is happening to the relationship because you are avoiding the conversation?


What outcomes are you both expecting as a result of this conversation? Have you articulated your expectations well?


Have you considered how you will measure the success of this conversation? Will you celebrate or provide recognition when success is achieved?


Mutual understanding is crucial to success; do you have mutual understanding of the above? What questions can you ask to ensure you are on the same page?


Take a moment to reflect on the learning to date in this situation for each of you. So what? Consider how your learning will influence next steps.


Relationships co-exist only in an environment of trust. What do you need to address in this conversation to ensure trust is maintained or ignited? Are you both being authentic and transparent in your approach to this situation? If not, why not? How do you change that?


What actions do you need to take to ensure results, relationships and trust are sustainable moving forward?

If you are a reader, there are many great books out there that speak to difficult conversations. If this is an issue for you, you might pick up Crucial Conversations, or Difficult Conversations: Discuss What Matters Most. Possibly read one of the many articles you can google that speak to stepping into difficult conversations.

Most conversations do not need to be difficult! We create that situation by our own behaviours, sometimes over thinking and then avoiding. Sift the facts from emotion, move from your heart to your brain, and then back to ensure a balanced approach to the conversation. Step in sooner than later; don’t let it fester. Do a little reading, apply our model and share your positive results with us. Turn those ‘difficult conversations into healthy conversations’ focused on what matters to you both. We know it works as our own clients have proven that many times with great success. You are personally accountable to step into those conversations well prepared.

If you are challenged, give us a shout for a coaching session to work through your situation directly, either as an individual or as a team. Your positive results are what lights our fire!