We need to talk…

Having that difficult conversation can be made a little easier if you follow some guidelines. POLLYANNA LENKIC

Pollyanna Lenkic

By Pollyanna Lenkic

I spent some time this week talking to some of my clients, friends and business owners and asked them what they struggled with the most when it came to managing and leading their people.

All of them mentioned that they struggled with having difficult conversations. How to have those conversations when a difficult message needed to be communicated.

If you too find this challenging I have outlined a guide for you.

Before you begin:

  • Be clear about your motivation/reason for having this conversation, what do you hope to achieve? What is the outcome that you want?
  • Ensure you check the facts, the reasons behind why you are giving the feedback.
  • Prepare your key points, what is it that you want to communicate.
  • Anticipate questions and objections, then prepare possible responses.
  • Be mindful not to dilute the difficult messages with warm fuzzy and unnecessary words.
  • Put yourself in their shoes, how would you like to be treated, communicated to.
  • Decide what perspective you want to be in to have this conversation, if you deliver difficult messages in an unfeeling, insensitive manner or put it off all together, the repercussions will be far worse than the news itself.
  • Think about how you can remain neutral and control your emotions.


  • Get straight to it, communicate clearly why you are here.
  • Use “I” messages; I think, I feel, I believe, and avoid using “you” messages. By using “I” messages you will stay in adult mode, the most productive mode for a conversation. If you use “you” messages this will come across as parental and judgemental and the person will feel criticised and most likely be defensive.
  • Allow the person some time to reflect and respond.
  • Acknowledge their feelings – “I can see this is hard for you” etc.
  • Provide specific examples and use words that explain the impact they are having by their behaviours and actions.
  • If the person becomes angry, respond with calm gestures and language and lower the tone of your voice.
  • Never take it personally if they lash out or shoot the messenger; the message may be hard to hear.
  • Offer constructive advice.
  • Clearly state what your expectations are going forward and agree a time and date to follow up.
  • Offer constructive advice and tell them what they are doing well.
  • Highlight the positive side of having the meeting.
  • Above all, respect their confidentiality and communicate this clearly to them.
  • Let the person know that they have your support and ask them how you can support them.

If you would like more, read the extract below from Fierce Conversations – Achieving success in work and in life, one conversation at a time by Susan Scott.

Opening statement (60 seconds)

1. Name the issue

The problem named is the problem solved. Name the behaviour that is causing the problem and the area the behaviour is impacting. Pick your battles and focus on one thing.

2. Select a specific example that illustrates the behaviour or situation you want to change

You only have 60 seconds in which to make your entire opening statement; this example must be succinct. No waffle and no diluting your message. Don’t present all the evidence that makes you right!

3. Describe your emotions about this issue

Why do this? Because emotions are deeply personal. Telling someone what emotion his or her behaviour has on you creates a real experience and is much more meaningful.

4. Clarify what is at stake

Why is this important? What is at stake for you and perhaps others that are involved?

5. Identify your contribution to this problem

Remember this is all happening in 60 seconds, so be brief. It is essential that the other person knows that you are taking at least some responsibility. The situation did not happen all by itself.

6. Indicate your wish to resolve the issue

Use the word resolve... To say “This is what I want to resolve” communicates good intent on your part. This is not the end, it is about finding a way forward.

7. Invite your partner to respond

You have now delivered a succinct statement describing the reality of this particular behaviour or issue. We have been reassured that the intent is to resolve the issue. Now invite the other person to participate. For example: “I want to understand what is happening from your perspective. Please talk to me about what’s going on for you.”


8. Inquire into your partner’s views

Though there is only one step in the interaction part of a confrontation, it is here that the bulk of the conversation takes place. You have extended an invitation to your partner and now you are listening and being present. Ask questions and be clear about what they are saying. Reflect back to them – “I want to make sure I’ve understood you.” Remember you both have different maps of the world.

This is often the most challenging part of the conversation so remember your intention is to “resolve”, not to cause conflict. Keep listening!

Finally, when your partner knows that you fully understand and acknowledge his or her view of reality, move toward resolution, which includes an agreement about what is to happen next.


Your relationship can become stronger and more resilient if you can work through this journey/process together. You now need to seek agreement about what happens next. These questions might help:

  • What have we learned about each other through this conversation?
  • Is there anything that has remained “unsaid”?
  • Can we move forward from here?
  • How will we each be responsible for moving forward?
  • How can we support each other?



Pollyanna Lenkic is the founder of Perspectives Coaching, an Australian based coaching and training company. She is an experienced facilitator, certified coach and a certified practitioner of NLP. In 1990 she co-founded a specialist IT recruitment consultancy in London, which grew to employ 18 people and turnover £11 million ($27 million). This blog is about the mistakes she made and the lessons she learned building a business the first time round and how to do it better second time round. For more information go to www.perspectivescoaching.com.au

 For more Second Time Around, click here.



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