Six Ways Of Dealing With Difficult Conversations

Very often, we think back on some heated conversations and arguments and find ourselves wishing we’d dealt with them differently. It’s not easy to stay cool and engaged when things get heated in meetings, negotiations, or difficult conversations. We’ve all been there. You might say something that you later regret, or get stuck on one point trying to prove that you’re right, ultimately losing sight of the bigger picture. With so much at stake, how do you keep a heated conversation constructive? Here are six possible ways… 


Acknowledging is a good way of staying in control of your feelings. It’s a response that shows the other person that you have heard what they said without it actually affecting your emotions.

For example, if someone is complaining about something, it might help to acknowledge it by saying something like “I’m ready to listen to you…” 


Probing is another excellent mechanism to stay in control of your feelings. Probing is when you make no contribution to the conversation ; all you do is “test” what the other person has said or seek to understand them better. An excellent defence against a put-down…

For example, “You sound like you were not happy with that discussion. What were you not happy with?”

Using the 3-part Sentence

This is a tried and tested technique to help you stand your ground. This technique will help you to reflect what the other person wants, communicate how you feel and state what you want. It does this by highlighting 3 responses:

  • Identify the behaviour you have found unacceptable
  • State the effect it has had on you e.g. I feel angry, I feel upset.
  • Ask for the change

For example, “When you interrupt me while I’m working, it makes me lose my concentration. I feel irritated by this, so could you please wait till I have finished? Please…?”

Using the Broken Record

Broken Record is a very useful technique to get a message across, particularly when the person is aggressive in nature and isn’t listening. Broken Record is simply repeating the same message, but using different words, during the conversation.

For example:

  • Your 1st response: “I cannot meet your deadline for that work.”
  • Your 2nd response: “I appreciate that you need it for the 15th. However, I cannot complete the work by the 15th.”
  • Your 3rd response: “Our team is two short over the next few weeks, which is why your piece of work will not be finished by your deadline. What I can do is produce most of the work by the 15th and the rest by the 18th.”

Pointing out a discrepancy

This technique helps to confront an issue with another person in the following situations:

  • Where that person has not done something that you have agreed
  • Where his or her behaviour or performance is below expectation
  • Where his or her behaviour or performance is outside the norm

For example, “We had agreed last week that you’d improve the arrangements, but now you seem rather dismissive of the problems. Let’s both be clear what the position is.”

Pointing out a Consequence

This is when you describe to the other person what will happen if the situation persists. This technique should be used as a last resort and used with caution or it may be seen as a threat. For example, “If your lateness persists, I’ll have no alternative but to proceed with disciplinary procedures and I’d really rather not do that…” The reality is that we are not always going to agree with everyone. However, disagreement does not have to come with disrespect – either for us, or for the other.