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Preparing for a difficult conversation

A mannequin's head, with colourful question marks
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Having heartfelt, meaningful, and truthful conversations can be difficult at times. After all, saying how we feel can leave us vulnerable, and in order to feel comfortable with this level of vulnerability, we need to feel emotionally safe with the person we are speaking with.

Being vulnerable to revealing our emotions and having truthful conversations, can also bring out fear. Fear of being rejected, fear of hurting others, or the fear of the words we say, being used against us at a later time (Moore, 2022). However, emotional vulnerability can also help us to feel empathy, aid understanding, and enhance our connection with others (Grande, 2019).

There are many different circumstances and situations where we may need to have a difficult conversation with someone, and this can take place with our family, loved ones, friends, or colleagues.

Below are a few pointers to help you prepare for a difficult conversation.

1) When having a difficult conversation, try to make it safe for both parties to talk. This can

mean being open to listening, not taking on a reactive stance, thinking about how you see the situation and how the other person may see the situation, and using “I”

statements to express how you feel (Ohio State University n.d.).

2) From a leadership perspective, whether this is personal or professional leadership, it

may be hard to find the right words, but it is important to show up and acknowledge

that you understand this is difficult (McGovern, n.d.).

3) If you’re needing to have a difficult conversation with a child about an illness or death, Mesothelioma Hope (n.d.) advises using language that is understandable for the child

and to make sure they know that they are not at fault, or to blame.

4) When you’re looking to frame the problem, think about the facts and how you can deal with concerns, resolve the problem, or plan for change – you may need to let go, be

open-minded, accept no one is perfect, or decide together how to make the situation

better (Interactive Associates, n.d.).


Grande, D. (2019, February 24). Emotional vulnerability as the path to connection: How vulnerability becomes strength in loving relationships. Psychology Today.

Interactive Associates. (n.d.). Difficult Interactions. Harvard Mentor Manager.

Mesothelioma Hope. (n.d.). Talking to children about cancer.

McGovern, M. (n.d.). 6 tools for handling difficult conversations. Women’s Leadership Today.

Moore, M. (2022, October 11). The good type of vulnerability. Psych Central.

Ohio State University. Difficult conversations: How to discuss what matters most.


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