Five Ways to Have a Difficult Conversation That Leads to Action

by Judith E. Glaser

Hiding behind email, texting or “sandwiching” tough feedback between compliments, won’t get your communication heard. Neither will “yell and tell!”Choosing friends at work

Here are five ways to have those dreaded conversations that addresses fears, concerns and worries:

  • Triggering: ‘Feared Implications’

Very often just the thought of having a difficult conversation causes anxiety and fear. Our minds quickly create a movie of what might happen, and our minds are quick to imagine the worst. I call this ‘feared implications.’ Feared implications are the worst-case scenarios, and when our minds imagine the worst, the neurochemistry of fear takes over. The clinical name for this is Amygdala Hijack, named after the part of the brain, which is the seat of fear.


Do have the conversation in person whenever you can. When you talk with someone face-to-face, it primes the way for an honest and caring exchange and it does make a difference. People experience a great level of trust and openness when they see someone face-to-face and see the look in their eyes of caring and concern for their well being.

  • Refocusing & Redirecting:

Do focus on outcomes and especially those that may be good or better for the person down the road. A person receiving bad news will be focusing on the loss and you want them to focus on how to use this situation to grow and to gain something better than what they had before. Redirect and refocus them on how to use this situation as an opportunity for change and growth.

  • Reframing:

Do focus on development and growth not punishment and blame. Most people feel shame and embarrassment when something goes wrong. When you reframe a discussion from ‘criticism’ to ‘development’ it shifts the person from thinking, “I was bad” to “here are new ways to be successful.” This creates a new energetic shift in their brain from the fear state to being open to learn something new. The “Heart-Prefrontal Cortex” will start working together and become in sync to create a healthy state of mind – open to learn.

  • Co-creating:

Fear closes down conversations. When the boss is afraid to talk, it amplifies the fear and feared implications. Instead, be open to discussing the impact and implications of the news. People will always say after the fact, that when a leader was open to discussion, it makes them feel that the difficult news was palatable. They feel if the process of exchange is fair and open, with candor, respect and caring, then they can accept the news. Also, if there is dialogue they may come up with other ways of handling the situation that had not been revealed before.

Judith E. Glaser

Judith E. Glaser is CEO of Benchmark Communications, Inc. and Chairman of The Creating WE Institute. She is an Organizational Anthropologist, and consults to Fortune 500 Companies. Judith is the author of 4 best-selling business books, including her newest, Conversational Intelligence. Follow her @CreatingWe .

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