Breath of Clarity

Comment #2 Difficult Conversations

Original Post by Liz Dowling:

Difficult conversations can be highly emotional and make people shut down or be aggressive in their responses (Diaz, 2:19). Holding a bad conversation that brings up difficult topics, this can ruin relationships and the effectiveness of your team (Diaz, 2:19). By preparing and noticing certain cues, the meeting can provide a win-win solution.

After watching these videos, I related to the desk conversation skit where he offered tips to provide a great space for serious conversations. A few jobs back, I didn’t have the best relationships with my supervisor and whenever we had a serious conversation about job tasks or performance reviews, reflecting back there was a distinct power dynamic. Because we didn’t have the best trust and rapport built, her sitting behind her desk didn’t make me ever want to open up but rather have the conversation as quick as possible. I’ve appreciated the suggestions all authors presented and think I will implement them in the future such as, sitting beside the person rather than behind the desk, chatting in another room and not in an office, and going for a walk. I have yet to take a walking meeting but after hearing the suggestions, I want to try it if the opportunity comes up. I tend to figit my hand under the table to let the anxiety out that way, than through my facial expressions and I feel like walking could support that movement I want.

During the difficult conversations, I appreciated the points Dalhousie University made to keep moving the conversation towards a positive direction and resolution. They noted, during a difficult conversation, remember to: outline your concerns, build on points of agreement, be specific, clarify information, dispel misconceptions, encourage participation in finding a solution, institute a process, ask for a commitment, identify next steps, avoid tagents and baits, and seek a win/win solution (Dalhousie University, nd). I thought this video provided key points to keep in the back of your mind when having a conversation and seeing the colleague go off on an emotional tangent. After these videos, my takeaway from these videos is be actively listen, navigate the conversation through the following steps, be sympathetic but do not be very emotional in these conversations. It seems like the participant may be emotional about the criticism and being able to provide answers with the needed institutional knowledge and empathy can guide a conversation to a win-win solution more easily.

In the after, I would thank the colleague for taking time out of their day to have a conversation important to you. I would let a little time pass, my gut says a week max, depending on the scenario and follow up during a check-in and go through the list of questions: how are you feeling, do we need to re-discuss any topics, anything i can support you with, are you on track with the topics. These more open ended questions could hopefully support the colleague to discuss what is on their mind and help maintain trust and rapport between you two. The principles noted in the textbook on having an empowered workplace including, trust in people, invest in people, recognize accomplishments, decentralize decision making, and view work as a cooperative effort (Manning, 177). Having this thought in the front of my mind, while having a hard conversation, you still want to focus on your people.


Dalhousie University. Year (n.d.). “Having Difficult Conversations: Resisting Change.” Dalhousie University HR. YouTube. July 20, 2018. Video, 7:44.

Diaz, Solomeh. Year (n.d.) “Warning: Crucial Conversations Are Hard. (Here’s how to make them better.)” Vitalsmarts Australia/New Zealand. YouTube. Sept. 6, 2017. Video, 6:26.

Manning, George. 2014. The Art of Leadership. New York: McGraw-Hill

My Comment:

Hi Liz,

Awesome ideas about how to set up a difficult conversation. I could see how sitting beside the person would create a dialogue that is much more collaborative than combative. It would take some pressure off of the conversation because it would seem less confrontational if people did not have to be across from each other. As a result, both people would feel more calm, comfortable and subsequently confident.

I also appreciate the idea to go for a walk. First of all, since walking is physically healthy, it will bring the benefits of exercise to positively impact the conversation outcome. I figure that the same benefits that come from walking by myself, such as an elevated mood and light feeling in my body, would also occur while walking with another person. Also, it is a lot easier to notice breathing becoming escalated during a walk. So, a leader would be able to detect that discomfort cue perhaps earlier in the discussion and take action to minimize it before the dynamic gets increasingly heated. As you mentioned, walking would also help both people release their emotions as the conversation is happening. I also figure that, if aggression does occur and the leader facilitates taking a pause, doing so while walking would play out better compared to sitting across from each other.

Reply by LIz Dowling:

Hi Mary,

Thanks for your feedback. Honestly, I’ve never had a conversation or meeting while walking even though I suggested it. Those are interesting thoughts and I’m really curious how I would feel during one. Part of me, believes I might be distracted from the cars driving and the traffic, I wouldn’t 100% be attentive in the smaller cues like breathing from a colleague. Maybe a walk along a local trail would be a better fit for me.

I have had meetings at our building’s outside area provided with tables and I do really enjoy those. The natural light, breeze, birds chirping, makes the environment more relaxed for all one’s senses. I’ve felt more authentic and relaxed when meeting in our outdoor area at work. I will say, it’s nice for casual meetings but I’d want to make sure there aren’t any colleagues around if I was having a serious conversation hitting difficult topics.