Top Ten Tips on...

Challenging Conversations

3 March 2023
Effective Top Tens - Podcast
Quick, practical tips on a wide range of management and personal development themes.
3 key factors that make conversations challenging, including context, them and you, and how to manage all 3, before, during and afterwards

What's the problem?

if you say 'I've got a difficult meeting coming up this afternoon' then by describing it a 'difficult' you are creating the expectation that it will be...making it more likely that it will be. Just say 'I've got a meeting this afternoon'. By all means prepare well for it, but avoid making it 'difficult' in your head before it actually deserves that title...


What's your best response

however the other person or group behave, your own behaviour - your response - is up to you. Your responsibility is your response-ability: to respond professionally and positively, whatever the others are doing.


Separate the individual from the issue

if Harry is smoking in a non-designated area, then the issue is the smoking - not Harry. This makes it possible to value Harry, while addressing the issue. People are much more capable of changing the way they behave than changing their identity - so avoid making the issue personal. All that will do is make the individual defensive and even aggressive.


Focus on outcomes

start at the back: what do you want the meeting to achieve? And work back from there. It's difficult to provide focus in a meeting if you don't know where you're heading. And remember, if you've called the meeting, and planned for it, you may be very clear about the outcomes you desire - but does the other person...?


Build rapport

you are more likely to be successful in any meeting if you can create positive rapport with the other person. This can include matching them in a number of ways (without mimicking them!) - for example:

body language



acknowledgement of their point of view

building on their ideas


Be inclusive

the best way to do this is to ask (non-threatening) questions, seeking their opinion. If I ask you now "what is the colour of your front door?" it's almost impossible for you not to answer it - even if only in your head. So you are engaged, and thinking about something I want you to think about...So ask questions, invite comments, seek their opinion...


Manage time

when people are interested, time goes quickly; when they are nervous, anxious or bored, it drags. So you and the other person might see the same 'time' differently....Also, if you are introducing new ideas, that the other person may not have thought about, then give them time to do that. It might be better to have 2 15-minute meetings - one to raise, one to discuss (with reflection time in between) than have one 30-minute meeting which tries to do it all in the one sitting...


Use key inter-personal skills

these are my top 5:

positive body language

asking positive questions

active listening


acknowledge and build


Manage emotion

in any challenging meeting, either part could be, or become, emotional. If that happens, remember these two key points:

emotion hijacks reason

you cannot reason with someone who is emotional

So the quickest way to get someone to move from emotion back to reason is to let them vent, let off steam - so long as it is safe and private...


Use a sensible structure

what that is, of course, is up to you - or the both of you. But is might typically follow this SCOPE structure:

S: symptom - what's the evidence there is a problem or issue?

C: cause: what are the reasons for the issue?

O: options: what are the options to resolve the issue or move it forward?

P: preference: what does each person prefer from the options considered (try and get consensus where possible)

E: execute: put that preference into action

Effective Top Tens - Podcast
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