Click here for our guide on how to improve communication skills

When having a difficult conversation, it’s easy to get wrapped up in what you need. You’re angry so you respond with anger. You’re frustrated so you respond with frustration. It makes sense, but it’s not effective. Instead of reacting, ask yourself a question: what is going on for the other party?


 Start with respect. Hold tempers in check by having all participants in the conversation agree at the beginning to respect each other and the problem you are discussing.


 Know your objective. What do you want to accomplish with the conversation? What is the desired outcome? What are the non-negotiables? As English philosopher Theodore Zeldin put it: A successful conversation “doesn’t just reshuffle the cards: it creates new cards.” What are the new cards that you want to have in your hands by the end of the conversation?


 Focus on the issue, not the person.

The chances of an effective conversation are increased if, instead of focusing on the person, you focus on the issue.


 Keep your emotions in check.

Acknowledge emotional energy – yours and theirs – and direct it towards a useful purpose. Often strong emotions are stirred by difficult conversations. It is important to keep them in check. Anger can worsen an already difficult situation, and causes many people to jump to faulty conclusions and overreact. In addition, it can be a real barrier to effective communication.


 Avoid the words “no,” “never” and “wrong” during a difficult conversation. Those words increase conflict. Instead, respond by seeking more information. Say: “That’s interesting. Why do you feel that way?”



Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it. -Charles Swindoll



 Maintain eye contact As in any constructive face-to-face communication, maintaining eye contact helps you gauge the receptivity of the other person throughout the conversation and demonstrates your honesty and desire to listen to the other person.


 Put yourself in the Other Person’s Shoes.

Sometimes putting yourself in the other person’s shoes helps us realize that there are many ways to look at the same situation.


Listen, acknowledge and take action.

What the other person is saying is important. Exercise active listening. Acknowledge their concerns, although never accept blame at this stage. Validate their feelings.


 Always consider cultural differences.

Different cultures express themselves in different ways. Be aware of cultural differences before jumping to conclusions and possibly making the situation worse. If you are unsure speak with the HR department.



Be sincere and true to your word, serious and careful in your actions; and you’ll get along.– Confucius



 Here are some additional tips for productive conversations:

  • Stay open
  • Be quiet
  • Summarize, clarify and restate for understanding
  • Acknowledge and validate
  • Don’t prosecute
  • Ask for permission to counter
  • Avoid asking “Why?”
  • Let go of the need to be right


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Myriam Balerio is the founder and writer of PA Privé. After kick starting her career as a PA and finding success as an assistant, Myriam later trained in digital and online marketing and has since combined the two disciplines in creating PA Privé, the platform through which she provides sage advice for those in the assistant profession and a network for like-mined PAs and EAs to connect. Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Myriam has lived in London for over 10 years and currently lives in London with her husband and French bulldog.


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