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5 Ways to Prepare for a Difficult Conversation

5 Ways to Prepare for a Difficult ConversationDifficult conversations are hard. They create the potential for conflict and conflict can be tough to confront.

A little while ago, I knew I had to have a difficult conversation with an old friend. I needed to obtain a sense of closure and clarity from what was rocky emotional terrain.Needless to say, I took my time mentally preparing for such a discussion and compiled some suggestions that may help the process along.

1. Write down your thoughts. Before embarking on a difficult conversation, write down what you hope to express. What are you feeling? What’s the best way to articulate your truth?

Furthermore, reflect on what it is you wish to accomplish. Are you looking for clarity or closure? Are you simply seeking to unleash thoughts and emotions that have been suppressed? By mapping out your thoughts, the purpose will become clear; a focus will manifest, guiding your words in the right direction.

2. Take a deep breath. There’s something to be said for the hype that surrounds various breathing exercises. Find a few minutes to breathe.

Take the deepest breath you can muster and exhale. Relax your body. Relax the parasympathetic nervous system. Allow muscle tension to deflate and unwind. If you have extra time, you can listen to soothing music.

3. Garner empathy. Try to place yourself in the other person’s shoes as much as possible. There are two sides to every story. There are reasons why people behave in a particular fashion. Maybe they grew up in a household that embodied different values. Maybe they struggle with vulnerability and connection. Whatever the root of their actions may be, understanding where they’re coming from could help fuel compassion.

Empathy and acceptance may help the other person feel less intimidated, which ultimately can benefit all involved.

“When having a difficult conversation, it’s easy to get wrapped up in what you need,” Harvard Business Review’s article on difficult conversations states. “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? By focusing on the other person’s needs, you can avoid unproductive emotions and find ways to support your employees and colleagues. While this may be the last thing you want to do in that moment, it’s a much more effective way of getting your needs met.”

4. Release expectations. Enter into the conversation without expectations. If expectations are not met, disappointment, sadness and irritation may surface. Instead of expecting the other person to apologize, react a certain way or offer reassurance, let the discussion unfold naturally. Let it be whatever it is in that moment.

5. Exude positive energy. Tap into warm, light and positive energy. Your energy will radiate outward, allowing the other person to be more receptive to what you have to say.

Difficult conversations involve a level of confrontation that can be stressful to endure. Writing down your thoughts, practicing deep breathing, garnering empathy, releasing expectations and exuding a positive energy can make communication a bit easier, fostering an efficient exchange.

5 Ways to Prepare for a Difficult Conversation

Lauren Suval

Lauren Suval studied print journalism and psychology at Hofstra University, and she is a writer based in New York. Her work has been featured on Thought Catalog, Catapult Community, and other online publications. Lauren's e-book “Coping With Life’s Clutter” and her collection of personal essays, “The Art Of Nostalgia,” can both be found on Amazon. Lauren's latest E-Book, "Never Far Behind," a collection of poetry, is available on Smashwords, Apple Books, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo. She loves to be followed on social media, including her Facebook Writing Page,

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APA Reference
Suval, L. (2018). 5 Ways to Prepare for a Difficult Conversation. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 15 Nov 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.