How to have difficult conversations

Follow these guidelines for challenging encounters and fighting “fair.”

How to have difficult conversations

Most everyone dreads the difficult, challenging conversation. This includes conversations in which we have to deliver unpleasant news, discuss a delicate subject, or talk about something that needs to change or has gone wrong.

Just thinking about having these conversations—whether with one’s partner, children (particularly adolescent or adult children), relatives, friends, or co-workers—can fill you with anxiety and trepidation, taking up space in your mind and distracting you from other important considerations that require your attention.

The anxiety can relate to concerns about bringing up a sensitive issue, being uncomfortable with setting or enforcing limits, or worry about how the other person will react. People may be fearful that the conversation will precipitate bad feelings or conflict. Because these kinds of conversations can create such discomfort, it’s natural and normal to want to avoid having them altogether. The problem with avoidance is that, in the absence of a situation resolving on its own, putting it off only allows it to continue and potentially get worse.

Planning and preparing can help turn down the volume of your apprehension and make it much more likely that the difficult conversations you need to have will be successful. As legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden put it, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”


For challenging or difficult topics, it’s best to plan to have the conversation in advance: “I’d like to talk with you about. ” or “We really need to talk about. ” Then, mutually agree on a time and a place for the conversation, and agree to meet in a place with enough space for all participants to be “comfortable enough” and to see each other clearly.

It’s never helpful to collect and hold on to feelings of frustration, anger, or resentment for days, weeks, or longer, and then dump them on another person all at once. Whenever possible, try to discuss challenging issues as they come up or soon thereafter.

Ground Rules

  • As much as possible, stay at about the same eye level. In other words, it’s best if everyone participating is either seated or standing. It’s generally not helpful for one person to be physically “above” or “below” others.
  • Speak directly to the other person(s).
  • Speak as calmly in a matter-of-fact tone as possible. This maximizes the chances that others will hear the content of your message, rather than fixate on your emotions.
  • Avoid finger-pointing, whether blaming or literally pointing fingers. This tends to make the other person(s) feel that he or she is being lectured or put down.
  • Avoid name-calling, yelling, screaming, cursing, put-downs, insults, or threats (emotional or physical). When any of these happen, the only thing other people hear is anger and attack. As a result, they are likely to leave, shut down, or attack as well. Treating others with respect is essential to healthy communication.
  • In describing your concerns and the things you’d like to happen differently, be as clear as possible and use specific examples. Avoid the words “always,” “never,” “everything,” and “nothing.” These may express your frustration and upset, but they overgeneralize and are fundamentally inaccurate. As part of a communication process, they are unhelpful.
  • No interrupting. When the other person is speaking, consciously listen to what he or she has to say with the intent of hearing it. This is very different from waiting for the other person to finish speaking so you can respond. If you’re thinking about what you’re going to say in response, while he or she is still speaking, you’re not listening.
  • Make sure you understand what the other person has said before you respond. If you’re not sure what he or she said or meant, ask for clarification. “Could you please repeat that?” “I’m not sure what you mean. Can you please help me better understand?”
  • Approach the conversation with openness and an interest in problem solving, rather than needing to be “right.” Anytime we see it as a competition where we need to be “right,” it means the other person has to be “wrong.” This kind of rigid either-or, win-lose, or right-wrong mindset makes conflict much more likely and mutual understanding much less likely.
  • Keep to the topic at hand. Focus on the topic of this conversation. Bringing up issues or complaints related to other topics or past events always interferes with healthy communication during the current conversation. Save those other issues for another time. If they continue to be important to you, you’ll remember them.
  • Do not walk away or leave the conversation without the other person’s agreement. Allow for the possibility of time-outs. It’s important to discuss and mutually agree to the concept of a “time-out” as needed. Time-outs are not just for young children or professional sports teams. If things start to become too heated, it’s important for people to be able to take a time-out. Time-outs give people the opportunity and the space to calm down and compose themselves, making it possible to continue.
  • Take responsibility for feeling the way you do, rather than blaming the other person. No one can make you feel a specific way. Use “I” statements — as in, “I feel. ” Be clear and specific about what the other person did that contributed to your reaction. Rather than saying, “You make me so mad,” focus on the other person’s actual behaviors.
  • Drop your assumptions. Just because you have been living or working together for a period of time doesn’t mean you know what the other person is feeling or thinking. People grow and change. What you want, need, or expect from each other changes and may need to be renegotiated from time to time.

Ultimately, you cannot control how the other person(s) will react to your efforts to engage them in challenging but necessary conversations. However, by being well prepared and following these guidelines, you can improve the skillfulness of your participation and maximize the chances that the conversation will serve its intended purpose.

Author of Some Assembly Required: A Balanced Approach to Recovery from Addiction and Chronic Pain and Discover Recovery: A Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Workbook (available April, 2017).

How to have difficult conversations

Tough challenges aren’t going away. But they’re often very difficult to talk about — leaving us anxious, unsure, frustrated, or angry.

What can be done? In order to deal effectively with awkward, tense, or challenging conversations, we first need to understand the common mistakes we make — and then take steps to tackle the difficult conversation.

According to Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most, we often make 3 major errors in our conversations:

  • We assume we already know all we need to know to understand and explain a situation.
  • We hide our feelings — or let them loose in ways we later regret.
  • We ignore who we are, acting as if our identity is separate from the issues.

Avoiding these mistakes isn’t easy. The key is to shift your thinking from I need to explain myself (or deliver a message) to I need to listen and learn more about what’s going on. The listening is really the critical part.

Here’s how to tackle a difficult conversation:

How to have difficult conversations

1. Prepare for a difficult conversation by walking through the “3 conversations” ahead of time. Every difficult conversation is really comprised of 3 conversations in one:

  • The what happened conversation
  • The feelings conversation
  • The identity conversation

So first, understand what the people involved are thinking and feeling, but not saying to each other. In a difficult conversation, this is usually where the real action is. Before stepping into a tense discussion or trying to calm a workplace conflict, ask yourself these questions:

  • Sort out what happened. How do you see the situation? Where does your story come from (information, past experiences, rules)? What do you think you know about the other person’s viewpoint? What impact has this situation had on you? What might their intentions have been? What have you each contributed to the problem?
  • Understand your feelings. Explore your feelings and ask yourself, What bundle of emotions am I experiencing?
  • Ground your identity. How does this situation threaten you or have the potential to shake up your sense of identity? How do you see yourself (I’m the boss; I like competition; I’m loyal; I’m good at developing my people)? What do you need to accept in order to be better grounded?

2. Check your purposes and decide whether to raise the issue. Make sure you really need to raise the issue at all. Will that help you achieve your purposes? To determine that, ask yourself:

  • What do I hope to accomplish by having this conversation?
  • Do I want to prove a point or change the other person?
  • How can I shift my stance to support learning, sharing, and problem-solving?
  • Can I affect the problem by changing my own contributions?
  • If I don’t raise it, can I let go of it?

3. Start from the “third story.” If you do decide to raise a difficult issue, don’t lead in with your view or story. Approach it as if a third, neutral person is looking on and leading the conversation. Describe the problem as the difference between your stories. Include both viewpoints as a legitimate part of the discussion. Share your purposes and let the other person know you’re looking to sort out the situation together.

4. Explore their story and yours. Actively listen to understand the other person’s perspective on what happened. Ask questions. Acknowledge the feelings behind the arguments and accusations. Paraphrase to see if you’ve got it. Try to unravel how the 2 of you got to this place.

Share your own viewpoint, your past experiences, intentions, and feelings. And constantly reframe assumptions: from truth to perceptions, blame to contribution, and accusations to feelings.

5. Problem-solve. Invent options that meet each side’s most important concerns and interests. Keep in mind that relationships that always go one way rarely last. Talk about how to keep communication open as you go forward.

How to have difficult conversations When I talk to nurse leaders about books that they would recommend to new leaders, one that is high on the list is the book Crucial Conversations. I have noticed it on the bookshelves of so many leader office that I have visited. One nurse leader referred to the book as her leadership bible. I just seem to be having many more of these conversations with staff in today’s environment, she observed. Whether they are about professional practice issues, time and leave problems, patient safety concerns or disrespectful behavior, these conversations are never easy. A crucial conversation, according to authors Patterson, Grenny, McMillian & Switzler, is one in which there are strong emotions, opposing opinions and high stakes. Too often, leaders just avoid these discussions until the situation becomes very serious. Learning to effectively manage these tough conversations is an important nursing leadership skill. Some key ideas presented in this important book include the following:

1. Start with the Heart

Before you begin a crucial conversation, ask yourself what you really want to see as an outcome and what is at stake. Begin with the right motives. Do you want to help a staff member improve their performance or behavior? Has the situation moved beyond this, and do you need to help the staff member recognize the need to resign or seek a transfer to another area? Is there an error in judgement that you need to discuss with a staff member who always reacts defensively. Be clear as to what your goals are before you hold the conversation so you can keep it on track, but recognize what is at stake here for you, the other individual and your relationship. This will help you to avoid looking for ways to win, punish or keep the peace during the dicussion.

2. Learn to Look

The goal of a crucial conversation should be to maintain a dialogue. You want to avoid the conversation moving into a mode where both parties become defensive and dialogue breaks down. When conversations feel safe, the dialogue will be free flowing. When it feels unsafe, the dialogue can easily break down. Be a viligant monitor of how you are behaving in a conversation and the impact you are having.

3. Make it Safe

Make it safe for both you and the other party to have a tough conversation. Sometimes these conversations become contentious not because others dislike the content of the conversation, but because they believe you have malicious intent. Mutual purpose becomes important in creating a zone of safety. Identify a shared goal. Look for points of agreement.

4. Master your Story

When the crucial conversation involves something that has made you personally very angry, it is important to get in touch with your feelings about the situation. Why do you feel the way that you do and if you have strong emotions, what is the appropriate way to respond. Separate fact from story by focusing on behavior.

5. State your Path and Explore the Path of Others

In an unemotional way, it is important to share your facts and perspectives during a crucial conversation. At the same time, find out what the other person is thinking. Look for areas of agreement and be sincere in your desire to listen to what is being said. Ask questions to increase understanding.

6. Move to Action

To successfully conclude a crucial conversation, it is important to come to consensus about what will happen next. Document who will do what, by when and settle on a way to follow-up.

Crucial conversations are rarely easy to conduct which is why they are frequently avoided until situations spiral out of control. When possible, don’t allow yourself to get drawn into one of these conversations on the spur of the moment. The key to success in these conversations involves careful planning of how the discussion will be conducted, what you intend to say and what you hope as an outcome. Writing down some key points can be helpful to keep you on track. Some seasoned nurse leaders use their colleagues as sounding boards to practice how they will conduct conversations where they expect considerable pushback from the staff member involved. For beginning nurse leaders, these crucial conversations about tough issues can be especially difficult and sometimes personally painful. Over time, leaders begin to realize that these conversations are necessary, improve their relationships with others and help them grow as leaders.

Read to Lead

Patterson, K., Grenny, J., McMillan, R. & Switzler, A. (2012). Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking when the Stakes are High. New York: McGraw-Hill.

How to have difficult conversations

If you dread discord, it can be natural to avoid or delay a difficult conversation. But this can hurt your relationships, and have other negative outcomes. You can learn to dive into these tough talks by reframing your thoughts. Begin from a place of curiosity and respect, and stop worrying about being liked. Then, instead of focusing on what you’re going to say, focus more on what you’re hearing from the other person. When you do speak up, be direct — and don’t put it off. All of this advice will be tough to follow if you can’t do one more thing: expect a positive outcome. Many people avoid hard talks because they fear the worst. If you expect the best, it will make it easier to keep the conversation constructive.

Avoiding or delaying a difficult conversation can hurt your relationships and create other negative outcomes. It may not feel natural at first, especially if you dread discord, but you can learn to dive into these tough talks by reframing your thoughts.

Begin from a place of curiosity and respect, and stop worrying about being liked. Conflict avoiders are often worried about their likability. While it’s natural to want to be liked, that’s not always the most important thing. Lean into the conversation with an open attitude and a genuine desire to learn. Start from a place of curiosity and respect — for both yourself and the other person. Genuine respect and vulnerability typically produce more of the same: mutual respect and shared vulnerability. Even when the subject matter is difficult, conversations can remain mutually supportive. Respect the other person’s point of view, and expect them to respect yours.

Focus on what you’re hearing, not what you’re saying. People who shy away from conflict often spend a huge amount of time mentally rewording their thoughts. Although it might feel like useful preparation, ruminating over what to say can hijack your mind for the entire workday and sometimes even late into the night. And tough conversations rarely go as planned anyway. So take the pressure off yourself. You don’t actually need to talk that much during a difficult conversation. Instead, focus on listening, reflecting, and observing. For example, if a team member has missed another deadline, approach them by asking neutral, supportive questions: “I see the project is behind schedule. Tell me about the challenges you’re facing.” Then listen. Pause. Be interested and proactive. Gather as much detail as possible. Ask follow-up questions without blame.

Your genuine attention and neutrality encourage people to elaborate. For every statement the other person makes, mirror back what they’ve said, to validate that you understand them correctly.

You and Your Team Series

Difficult Conversations

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7 Things to Say When a Conversation Turns Negative
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How to Handle Difficult Conversations at Work
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Create a Culture Where Difficult Conversations Aren’t So Hard
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Be direct. Address uncomfortable situations head-on by getting right to the point. Have a frank, respectful discussion where both parties speak frankly about the details of an issue. Talking with people honestly and with respect creates mutually rewarding relationships, even when conversations are difficult.

There are situations, however, where cultural or personality differences should be considered. If your culture is conflict avoidant or doesn’t value directness, you can still engage in challenging conversations. In these cases, shift your approach from overly direct to a respectful, affirming back-and-forth conversation. For instance, if the person you are talking with seems to not be picking up on what you are saying, ask them to repeat their understanding of what you’ve shared. As they reflect back what they’ve heard, you can adjust your message to make sure the conflict is moving toward resolution. This communication style is open and less threatening.

Don’t put it off. How often is your response to conflict something like, “I don’t want to talk about it” or “It’s not that big a deal” or “It’s not worth arguing about”? If you’re always promising yourself that you’ll “bring it up next time it happens,” well, now’s the time. Instead of putting off a conversation for some ideal future time, when it can be more easily dealt with, tackle it right away. Get your cards on the table so you can resolve the issue and move on.

It might seem risky to come right out and say something, but often that’s just what is needed. Give yourself or your counterpart a little bit of time to cool down, if necessary, and plan the general outline of what you want to convey and the outcome you desire. But then have the conversation, and make a plan to move on. After all the mental gymnastics of endlessly practicing conversations in your head, actually engaging in a two-way conversation can be inspiring, respectful, and productive.

Expect a positive outcome. You’ll struggle to follow this advice if you continue to go into a conflict telling yourself, “This is going to be a disaster.” Instead, tell yourself, “This will result in an improved relationship.”

Focus on the long-term gains that the conversation will create for the relationship. When your attention is focused on positive outcomes and benefits, it will shift your thinking process and inner dialogue to a more constructive place. As a result, you will grow more comfortable approaching the coworker who constantly criticizes and complains, or the subordinate who keeps underperforming.

Don’t ignore the tough situations you are aware of today. When the opportunity presents itself to provide unsolicited negative feedback to a difficult colleague or give a less-than-positive performance evaluation, summon the courage to address the conflict head-on.

What to say and how to follow up, so even the toughest conversations lead to productive outcomes.

Being a team leader is an incredibly rewarding role—but like any great job, it comes with its challenges. Part of that is having difficult conversations with employees. Do you have the skills to tackle tough talks? Whether it’s about poor performance, team conflict, or personal issues, dive in to see how you can handle a tough conversation with a team member.

Having difficult conversations: do’s and don’ts

Don’t start the conversation without thinking about it first.

Don’t let professionalism overpower humanity.

Don’t arrive with a to-do list or deadlines for the other person.

Don’t hammer at your side of the conversation.

Do think about what you’ll say and how you’ll say it.

Do be vulnerable and open up about how you feel.

Do be a part of the solution and take on some action items.

Do check in at the end so you’re both on the same page.

What if you could lead game-changing 1-on-1s?

How to have difficult conversations

Preparing for a productive conversation

Knowing that you need to have a constructive conversation with an employee on your team, you want to take the time to plan what you’ll say. Start by scheduling one-on-one meetings and set the talking point in your meeting agenda so you both have visibility on what you’ll discuss. Use a shared agenda so employees can add their own talking points, too. Of course you want to arrive prepared, and your team member should have the chance to do the same.

Write down the key points you’d like to address, and practice how you’ll say them. Seek out someone you trust as a sounding board before having difficult conversations (but be mindful of what information you share). It’s easy to get so caught up in what we want to say, that we forget to think about how it will land.

Put yourself in their shoes: Take a moment to imagine that you are on the other side of the situation. Consider 3-5 possible emotions your team member might have. Could they be disappointed? Frustrated? Jealous? Embarrassed? Remember that you don’t know what they think or how they feel, and go into the conversation seeking to understand.

3 top tips for having difficult conversations

1. Focus on facts, not emotion

Part of this comes in your planning; you want to sort out the facts of the situation from how you feel about it. Having this clearly laid out helps keep a challenging conversation focused and grounded. You can even bring notes, or if you’re using Officevibe, add personal notes to your one on one tool agenda that are visible to you only :

  • What happened to warrant a difficult discussion?
  • What is the impact?
  • What needs to change or be adjusted?
  • What will happen if not?

When you know the answers to these questions you avoid speaking in hypotheticals or getting sidetracked. That way, you’ll talk about what really matters, and not end up in an unproductive debate over something subjective.

Don’t ignore how you feel: it’s only natural for emotions to arise when there’s tension or something important is at stake. When you’ve nailed down the facts, it’s easier to manage your emotions and keep a hard conversation on track.

2. Create an environment for honesty

When one or both people enter a conversation with reservations or a negative attitude, it hinders the potential to reach a positive outcome. Open the conversation by stating your positive intent, whether it’s conflict resolution, understanding, or creating an action plan. You can try asking coaching questions in your one-on-one to give your team member the chance to express themselves.

You also want to foster a culture of honesty and openness with employees on an ongoing basis. Recurring one-on-one meetings with each member of your team let you to touch base and discuss what matters most. With Officevibe’s one-on-one software, you can build a shared agenda where you and your employee can both add talking points. Then, set trackable action items that carry over week to week. Centralizing your one-on-ones makes them quicker to plan each week, simplifies your yearly reviews, and helps everyone follow through on commitments made.

How to have difficult conversations

Check out our latest guide to make sure each conversation drives action.

Having difficult conversations with employees is an inevitable—if uncomfortable—part of people management. Whether it’s about performance, workplace conflict, sharing negative feedback, or discussing personal issues, being able to address sensitive subjects is an essential part of supporting employees. Yet according to data from Officevibe’s Pulse Survey software, 24% of employees do not feel that their direct manager is aware of employee pain points.

How to have difficult conversations

This sentiment has implications beyond the manager-employee relationship—we see a strong correlation between whether employees feel their manager cares about their opinion, and whether they feel they’re part of a team. Being open enough that people not only feel comfortable to be honest with you, but believe that you care personally, is key to cultivating a supportive, collaborative team environment.

How to have difficult conversations

Prep one-on-ones in record time!

1-on-1 software that makes planning quick and conversations meaningful.

5. Find a solution together

Every one-on-one meeting should wrap up by setting clear action items, and this is especially important when you’re discussing something like a disagreement between colleagues, unmet employee expectations, or someone’s mistake. One or both of you may come to the meeting with action items in mind, but take the time to discuss them, build on them, and decide on a path forward together. A successful conversation means finding the most productive solution, not being right or proving a point.

Offer help and support where you can
Acting as a team player and contributing to the solution when employees are having a tough time shows leadership, and helps build a stronger, more supportive team.

The most important part of setting action items is following up. Set a talking point for your next one-on-one to revisit your established plan and ensure you’ve both followed through your commitments and achieved the desired outcome. Officevibe’s one-on-one software does this for you, so every meeting drives real results.

Addressing an uncomfortable conversation can be challenging, but having these tough talks ultimately leads to growth on your team. By approaching sensitive subjects with empathy and care, you can make a difficult discussion productive, and come to a positive outcome.

How to have difficult conversations

All of us have been on the receiving end of a difficult conversation at work, and many have had to deliver a hard message to others. Unless you are totally inhuman, none of these are painless, and we all wish we had some way to make them more meaningful and more effective. We all want to feel good about our work and relationships, and we want others to feel the same way.

During my many years in business and as a consultant, I have struggled with this dilemma myself and tried to offer clients the insights they needed, but never had a good answer. Thus, I was pleased to see this topic addressed well in a new book, Can We Talk? Seven Principles for Managing Difficult Conversations at Work by Roberta Chinsky Mauson.

Roberta is a recognized thought leader on improving employee engagement and has consulted with many top-tier companies and achieved some great results. I agree with her principles for approaching any conversation at work, especially difficult ones, and making them positive and productive, rather than emotional and confrontational. Here are some highlights:

1. Build confidence by trusting yourself and the other party.

Build your confidence first and present your side of the conversation in a way to keep the other person engaged and open enough to really hear your thoughts. You also need to take some time to build a trusting relationship with the other person before jumping in and speaking your mind.

The best way to build your own confidence is to solidify your purpose at work and focus on results around that purpose. It’s hard to be confident in what you’re doing if you’re not sure why you’re doing it. When you show confidence, people will trust and follow you.

2. Find clarity by making your point clearly and listening.

If you want others to hear you loud and clear, be direct in your communication, choose your words carefully, and stick to the facts. Enter all discussions with an open mind, park your assumptions, and listen deeply. Remember that what someone else hears is dependent on their perspective, not yours.

Too often, the main objective for people who are about to enter a tricky conversation is to get it over as quickly as possible. With that as an objective, you won’t make your point clearly and you may not listen. Practice your message ahead of time and stick to it.

3. Demonstrate compassion by being empathetic and understanding.

Empathy and compassion are the impressions you display of how well you understand or feel what the other person is experiencing. These include not only the words spoken but, more importantly, your nonverbal cues and body language. Usually it helps to slow down your speech rather than speed up.

4. Demonstrate curiosity by asking questions rather than shutting down.

Being curious and asking questions to learn more about a particular situation shows the other party that you’re interested in what they have to say and helps to move the conversation forward. Be sure not to cross the fine line between coming across as curious versus sounding judgmental.

5. Find compromise and earn respect by respecting others.

When seeking common ground, focus on the “why,” keep your eyes on the prize, be open to all alternatives, and be willing to make concessions. Try to make the outcome a “win-win” rather than a “win-lose” result. Always be respectful of alternate views and perspectives that do not match yours.

6. Show credibility, as your word is only as good as your actions.

Credibility isn’t a trait you are born with. Rather, it’s something you earn day in and day out. It’s your behaviors that matter — not your intentions. Remember that people don’t work for companies, they work for people they trust. Improve your credibility by being consistent and owning your mistakes.

7. Display courage by navigating the obstacles despite fear.

Courage is the determination to move forward despite the fear. The sooner you are able to deal with discomfort, the easier it will be for you to initiate a high-stakes conversation. Not taking action is never a solution, but not every conversation is worth having. In all cases, summon the courage to stand up for yourself.

As you can see, there’s a lot that needs to go into handling a challenging work situation when your goal is to have a productive discussion and you need to continue to maintain a relationship with the other person.

Since these principles often take time to have an impact, you need to start your thinking and focus now.

Addressing an issue with a family member can be stressful, but with the right tools, you can keep the conversation productive. Use these 10 tips to prepare for difficult conversations.

web on October 5, 2020

How to have difficult conversations

From time to time, we all must have a difficult conversation with a family member. Whether it’s about the dishes in the sink or finances, a whole range of topics can lead to uncomfortable feelings. However, putting off conflict can lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings.

When it comes time to discuss what matters, here are 10 tips for handling difficult conversations with family.

1. Prepare.

When you decide to approach a family member about a difficult subject, prepare ahead of time to ensure a positive outcome. Keep expectations modest and set realistic goals to keep the conversation on track. Consider past conversations you’ve had with your family member. What worked and what did not? Develop a strategy based on past knowledge, and you’re well on your way to achieving resolution.

2. Expect a positive outcome.

When preparing for a difficult conversation, adopt a positive mentality. If you go into a conflict thinking it will be a failure, it will often not go your way. Instead, tell yourself that, though the conversation will be difficult, it will result in an improved relationship between you and your family member.

3. Set a time and place.

We all live busy lives, and sometimes it’s best to set a time and place for a difficult conversation so that all parties involved can devote equal attention. Choose somewhere quiet and free from distraction, whether that’s in your living room or a local park. Also, pick a time when everyone can give the conversation their undivided attention.

4. Set a time limit.

Setting a time limit can help keep your difficult conversation productive. Keep the conversation to no more than one hour. Schedule another session to continue the conversation if you need to do so.

If children are involved, a shorter time span may help them remain more engaged than they would in an hour-long exploration.

5. Set some ground rules.

Shared ground rules will go a long way toward establishing a positive connection between you and your family members. Certain rules like no interrupting, no shouting and no personal attacks can help keep heated discussions from becoming, well, overheated.

6. Bring up the issue.

Be sure to approach the topic at hand with a sense of openness—attempt to learn and collaborate in the spirit of finding a common solution. There’s nothing wrong with airing your grievances in this space, but watch your language and make sure you are being clear without being accusatory.

7. When someone is speaking, listen.

Many people will spend time during a difficult conversation constructing their next statement as opposed to listening. Take the pressure off yourself. You don’t actually need to talk that much during a difficult conversation. Instead, focus on listening, reflecting and observing.

8. Examine your assumptions.

When your family member says something that angers or upsets you, have the self-awareness to take a step back, repeat what your family member said to you, and clarify its meaning.

Use an “I” message to address your concerns effectively: “I feel upset when you say that. It makes me feel like I am not smart enough to understand your feelings…is this truly what you mean?” Statements like these lead to greater understanding between you and your family member.

9. Be OK with being wrong.

Approach your difficult conversation with the mindset that your point of view isn’t the only correct perspective on the situation, and that you may actually learn something if you admit wrongdoing. Although it may sting in the moment, it can lead to a deeper understanding between you and your family member.

10. Wrap it up.

When the time comes to end the conversation, be sure to conduct a conversation summary. Where did you develop practical solutions, and where did you decide it was better to agree to disagree? Be sure to thank your family member for taking the time to have the discussion, even if it did not turn out as planned, and say that you love them.

Nobody enjoys bringing up difficult subjects with family, but being able to do so productively can help you build relationships while managing differences effectively. With time and practice, anyone can employ the above techniques and confront challenging topics head-on. As you practice honesty and develop shared problem-solving techniques, the stronger your connection with your family member will be.