How do I prepare for difficult conversations?

Difficult conversations are anything we find hard to talk about with another person. They may involve topics you don’t want to talk about, situations where you are not sure what to say, conflicting opinions, circumstances where the outcome is uncertain or a discussion that make you feel uncomfortable.

Characteristics of a difficult conversation

Difficult conversations are typically associated with 3 characteristics:

  1. High stakes -the two parties are dealing with important issues
  2. Strong emotions - participants may become angry, disappointed or upset
  3. Different opinions - the two parties in the conversation may disagree.

The importance of having a difficult conversation

Difficult issues do not usually go away by themselves. The best way to handle a difficult issue is to deal with it. Difficult conversations foster:
  • trust and transparency
  • stable and effective relationships
  • accountability
  • resilience and personal growth
  • timely and efficient conflict resolution
  • recognition of diversity
  • accurate information exchange
  • a positive working environment
  • a culture of trust, respect and empowerment
  • employee performance, engagement and staff retention
  • career opportunities

Tips for managing a difficult conversation

  1. Have the conversation sooner rather than later
  2. Prepare and rehearse for the conversation
  3. Allow time and space
  4. Stick to the facts
  5. Focus on the future
  6. Keep a tight control on your emotions
  7. Document
  8. Reflect
  9. Follow up as agreed

Guide to preparing for and having a difficult conversation

School leaders can use a guide and follow the steps to prepare for having a challenging conversation.


  • Teaching and learning
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