How To Have Hard Conversations WithOUT Freaking Out

Person holding a gray cup with both hands near an old, closed book with a dark cover.

Raise your hand if you enjoy having hard conversations. 

If I were giving this talk at a Zoom conference, I’d typically hear crickets. 

And that’s because apart from a select-few confrontation kings and queens, most people shudder at the idea of difficult talks. 

If you ARE a pro at expressing yourself in less-than-ideal situations, I applaud you!

If you’re not, it’s understandable. 

I mean…

The friction! The feelings! The fall out!

Our minds can spin in circles trying to predict the outcome of a hard conversation. 

And we can lead ourselves into such extreme avoidance, we end up compounding our anxiety of the inevitable.

Throughout my career, I’ve had to learn the hard way. 

And the reality is… 

You’re not doing yourself or anyone else any favors by staying silent.

So while it may never feel like a bundle of fun to communicate the hard stuff,  let’s make it easier by adhering to some simple rules of thumb.

#1 Be 100% Honest 

Sugar-coating the situation with half-truths will get you nowhere. And if you’re gonna do that, you may as well avoid the talk altogether. You deserve to express your truth in its entirety, and you can do so in a thoughtful and informative way. 

#2 Don’t Expect An Immediate Answer

Now, you should expect the other person to listen carefully to what you have to say. Sometimes, though, they’ll tune out if they’re a) scared or b) apathetic.  One of the best ways to get them from shutting down is to tell them you’re genuinely interested in their feedback, and you also don’t expect it in the moment. 

Not only will they be more receptive to the idea of hearing you out, they won’t respond in a reactive manner. When you’re talking to employees or team members, proactive and solution-oriented feedback is always the best route forward. 

#3 Be Okay Being Wrong

This one is key, albeit often difficult. You have to stay open up to the idea that you could be wrong, or you might have misinterpreted what someone said or did. 

Remember, there’s my side of the story, there’s your side of the story, and then there’s the truth. And the truth doesn’t give a free pass to our egos. 

#4 Stick To The Facts

Emotions and opinions can drop us off in muddy waters. And yes, when you’re in a fight with your partner, it’s essential that your feelings are heard. However, in the world of business, it’s best to stick to objective analysis of what happened and how to fix it. 

Be clear about what’s non-negotiable, and then allow room for adjustments. And don’t forget to be ultra-specific about what you are looking for. People aren’t mind readers! 

#5 Give Your Conversation the Jennifer Reframe 

Here’s the exact template I use to get through difficult conversations…

The template that’s turned stomach-wrenching moments into some of the most productive conversations of my career:

  • [X] happened (channel your most matter-of-fact tone!) 

  • [X] is not okay because [Y]

  • Let’s brainstorm some ways we can avoid [X] next time, understand [Y], and use this information to achieve [Z] instead

Even if they don’t agree with you, it’s very important they understand the WHY behind what went wrong. 

Without the understanding, you’re bound for a repeat mistake, and some awkward glitches down the road.

#6 Communicate Quickly 

Now, in some cases, you’re not telling someone to correct their mistakes.

You’re telling a client about a mistake YOU made…

Or something out of your control that you still need to communicate.

In this kind of scenario, bring up the issue with complete transparency… 

And withOUT excuses. 

Then, offer a viable solution and move on as quickly as possible. No need to leave one uncomfortable moment as an unwelcome elephant in the room. 

The Bottom Line

Look, no one likes to be the bearer of bad news. 

But the more you practice, the easier it gets. 

And the faster you bring up the issues, the faster you’ll move towards a grade-A solution. 

Who knows? This one hard conversation could be game changing in ways you’d never expect. 

So put on those confrontation caps…

And get talking!

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