Managing Difficult Conversations


What obstacles block difficult conversations from being successful?

This was one of the first questions Kathy Hartmann-Campbell asked us to brainstorm answers for in her workshop “Managing Difficult Conversations” last Wednesday September 14th.

Some factors that can complicate already difficult conversations are varying power dynamics, poor timing, and an inflexible point of view. Above all, everyone concurred that the number 1 barrier to successful difficult conversations is our emotions – principally fear – that are fueled by our insecurities, our tendency to avoid confrontation, and our preconceived ideas and prejudices that we unwittingly carry with us.

From her experience working with organizations and individuals for over 30 years, Kathy believes that self-awareness and the ability to identify one’s emotional response and triggers play a significant role in the outcome of difficult conversations.

Kathy provided the following suggestions for identifying what can we do to avoid responding emotionally:

  • Learn how to recognize our emotional triggers (usually physical symptoms like increased heart-beat and sweating)
  • Practice controlling our response and regaining composure via tools such as mantras or safe-place imagery, for example
  • Name the emotion we’re feeling, helping us take power away from the emotion and putting us back in control

Once in control of our emotions, Kathy presented two additional tools that she finds help facilitate difficult discussions:

  • Active Listening (which can consist of paraphrasing what the other has said and/or summarizing what was understood)
  • “I” messages (“I feel frustrated when…” or “I sense frustration in your voice…”, for example)

Kathy started the meeting by asking us all to share one characteristic, quality, or strength we possess that we can take with us into a difficult conversations. This idea of empowerment ran through the entirety of the workshop, and her message was loud and clear: we already start with the capacity for success, and by controlling our emotional responses and picking up additional communication tools, we empower ourselves to guide difficult conversations toward success rather than being dragged by them towards failure.

Author: Liz McCreary, Tara Gaffney



“Spot” volunteers are always appreciated for our events! Just let us know when you sign up for the event so we know that you’re available to help for that one evening. Thanks in advance for the quick and easy support for us.


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