Tips for having a difficult discussion

If you are at odds with someone and you find yourself:
  • Going in circles,
  • Getting angry because the other person won’t cooperate,
  • Frustrated because the other person won’t give you what you need,
  • Irritated because the other person won’t see your point of view,
  • Avoiding the person,
You need a strategy that will move you out of “stuck” mode and help you have a conversation that will move you toward resolution. Here are a few strategies that may work for you:
  • START WITH RELATIONSHIPS. Ask yourself, “What outcome am I fearful of?” What concerns you most? What do you hope for the relationship?
(Example: Two managers were avoiding each other. One sensed the other was angry about something but no words were said. Finally, one manager approached the other and said, “I really value our relationship and I sense you might be upset about something I’ve done. I’d really like to be able to work together again without this tension I’m feeling.”)
  •  NEEDS VS. POSITIONS. Focus on exactly what you need and why, instead of your “position.”
(Example: Two managers were fighting over an open position. They were polarized and each one wanted the additional staff. When they finally asked each other what the other person needed the position for and why, they discovered some overlap and they were able to work out a shared position.)
  • DO/DON’T. Be clear about what you do want and what you don’t want. Then ask the other person what he/she wants and doesn’t want.
(Example: A new executive found himself in conflict with a fellow executive. He didn’t know where the hostility was coming from. When he said, “I do want to collaborate with you. I don’t want to create policies in a vacuum and expect you to follow them,” he discovered that the peer thought he was over-stepping his turf.)
  • JOURNEY OF INTENTIONS. Ask the other person to explain why he/she did what they did and listen without arguing or correcting their actions. Once you understand why they took those steps, you will see the gap between their intentions and their desired goal. Then you can suggest another approach to help them get what they want.
(Example: A manager was getting frustrated by an employee’s resistance to his directions on an important issue. Instead of just demanding that she follow his wishes, he changed his approach and asked the employee to explain her thought process. The manager realized the root cause of the resistance and they came up with a mutual strategy.)
  • FIND COMMON GROUND. Finding common ground is always a good place to start. It helps you back away from the wrestling match and see the bigger picture.
(The Marketing Leader and Sales Leader were arguing over how to implement a new Marketing initiative. Once they backed away and agreed the final solution had to be a win/win for the customer and the company (rather than just be a “win” for their own departments), they cooled down and found a way to make it work.) 
  • HELP THE OTHER PERSON SAVE FACE. If you don’t let the other person have a graceful way to explain his or her behavior, you could drive a stake into the heart of the relationship.
(Example: A customer service manager was irate about something a peer did that she felt was a breach of ethics. She wanted to confront the person and accuse her of being unethical. Her boss suggested that she go on the Journey of Intentions instead. Once the peer began to explain her decision, it became clear that the situation was more “gray” than it originally seemed. The customer service manager said, “I can see why you did that, since you were acting on the facts you were aware of…let me explain how that looked to me.”)
Using these techniques alone or in combination, will guide you through sticky conversations and all out conflicts. In fact, they will help you avoid problems before they start.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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