Difficult Conversations


  1. What is a Difficult Conversation?
  2. Why Should I Act Now?
  3. What Skills Do I Need?
  4. Emotional Awareness
    1. Recognise Your Feelings
  5. Assertive Communication
  6. The Steps of Positive Assertiveness
  7. Personal Bill of Rights
  8. Responding to Aggression
  9. Choose Your Battles


What is a Difficult Conversation?

A difficult or challenging conversation is a conversation where you have to manage emotions and information in a sensitive way in order to:

  • Address poor performance or conduct
  • Deal with personal problems
  • Investigate complaints/deal with grievances
  • Comfort or reassure someone
  • Tackle personality clashes

The conversation usually takes place one-to-one and can really test an Officer’s skills.

You can find out more about this section in the Conflict Resolution section in either the Team Command Guide or Division Command Guide.

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Why Should I Act Now?

If you do not act now then you could:


  • Mislead the Member by giving the impression that there is no problem
  • Deny the Member the chance to improve or put things right
  • Damage the productivity and efficiency of your Team/Division/Clan
  • Lower the morale amongst Team Members

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What Skills Do I Need?

Many of the skills needed to manage difficult conversations and behaviour are often referred to, in a rather derogatory tone, as ‘soft’. But there’s nothing soft about dealing with an emotional or confrontational Member who may appear to be trying to unsettle or undermine you or other Members/Officers.

In order to get what you want out of a difficult conversation, you need to have:

  • Awareness of your emotions
  • Assertive language
  • Strong listening skills

You can find out more about this section in the Communication section in either the Team Command Guide or Division Command Guide.

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Emotional Awareness

Take a minute to notice and name your emotions. Which is the most intense? Instead of trying to hide or ignore your feelings, focus on becoming aware of them. When you feel a strong emotion or feeling, take a second to stop what you’re doing, pay attention to that emotion, and try not to let it get in the way of your message. Both positive emotions, like happiness, and negative emotions, like anger, can get in the way of communication.

Feelings are never right or wrong. They simply exist. We are all entitled to have feelings. All human beings experience emotions like anger, envy, jealousy, sadness, frustration, and irritation.

People generally tend to suppress their feelings, whether they are aware of it or not. As children we are sometimes taught to suppress our feelings and then it becomes a habit. The result is that as adults we tend to be out of touch with our feelings. We begin to ignore and withhold them instead of acknowledge and respect them.

You must understand yourself before you can understand others.

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Recognise Your Feelings

When your needs are satisfied, you feel:

When your needs aren’t satisfied, you feel:

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Assertive Communication

Assertiveness means to communicate your thoughts and feelings honestly and appropriately. Assertive communication can be verbal and nonverbal. To express yourself assertively requires self-awareness and knowing what you want and need. It means showing yourself the same respect that you demonstrate toward others.

If you do not assert yourself by letting others know what your thoughts, feelings, wants and needs are, then they are forced to make assumptions about you in those areas. Assumptions have about a 50% chance of being correct. That means that you only have half a chance of people understanding you and responding to you in a way that you desire.

Once you begin to assert yourself, you will find that you begin to feel better about yourself, have more self-confidence, that you get more of what you want out of life, and that others will respect you more.

Be prepared that not everyone will be supportive of your changes in thinking and behavior. Some people that you interact with, such as family members or your significant other, may even demonstrate some negativity about these changes. This could be because change is difficult for them to accept, they are comfortable with what is familiar to them, they benefited from your passive people-pleasing behaviors, or they fear losing you through change. However, you can’t give up who you are to please other people or to keep certain people in your life. Take one day at a time, focus on the positive and be the best that you can be.

To clarify the variations of responses and styles of communication/behavior, review the following descriptions.

  1. Passive: Always giving in to what others want. Don’t want to make waves. Don’t express your thoughts or feeling. Afraid to say no. Discounting your own wants and needs.
  2. Aggressive: Being demanding, hostile, or rude. Insensitive to the rights of others. Intimidates others into doing what they want. Is disrespectful.
  3. Passive-aggressive: You tell people what they want to hear, which avoids conflict. However, you really feel angry inside, and you don’t follow through on the expectations or requests, which makes the other person feel frustrated, angry, confused or resentful.
  4. Manipulative: Attempt to get what you want by making others feel guilty. Tend to play the victim or the martyr in order to get other people to take responsibility for taking care of your needs.
  5. Assertive: Directly stating honestly and appropriately what your thoughts, feelings, needs or wants are. You take responsibility for yourself and are respectful toward others. You are an effective listener and problem solver.

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The Steps of Positive Assertiveness

  1. Prepare for a neutral conversation by first diffusing your emotions and by waiting until the other person is likely to be least reactive and most receptive.
  2. Deliver your message as briefly and directly as possible, without being sarcastic, condescending or judgmental. Contribute to making the interaction a positive one..
  3. Be respectful. Allow enough time for the other person to respond without pressure.
  4. Reflectively listen. If the person becomes defensive, reflect to them what you hear them saying, and validate their feelings.
  5. Reassert your message. Stay focused on the original issue; do not be derailed.
  6. Reuse this process using a lot of reflective listening to decrease emotionality, debating or arguing. It takes two people to escalate things. Don’t participate.
  7. Focus on the solution without demanding that the person respond as you do. Because you brought it up, you have probably been thinking about it and resolved some aspects of the situation. Therefore it is important that you facilitate their participation in problem-solving the issue so that they don’t feel like they have been railroaded.

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Personal Bill of Rights

  1. I have a right to ask for what I want.
  2. I have a right to say no to requests or demands that I cannot meet.
  3. I have a right to express all my feelings – positive and negative.
  4. I have a right to change my mind.
  5. I have a right to make mistakes and do not have to be perfect.
  6. I have a right to follow my own values and beliefs.
  7. I have the right to say no to anything if I feel that I am not ready, if it is unsafe, or if it conflicts with my values.
  8. I have the right to determine my own priorities.
  9. I have the right not to be responsible for the actions, feelings, or behaviors of others.
  10. I have the right to expect honesty from others.
  11. I have the right to be angry at someone I love.
  12. I have the right to be myself. To be unique.
  13. I have the right to express fear.
  14. I have the right to say “I don’t know.”
  15. I have the right to not give excuses or reasons for my behavior.
  16. I have the right to make decisions based on my feelings.
  17. I have the right to my own personal space and time.
  18. I have the right to be playful.
  19. I have the right to be healthier than those around me.
  20. I have the right to feel safe, and be in a non-abusive environment.
  21. I have the right to make friends and be comfortable around people.
  22. I have the right to change and grow.
  23. I have the right to have my wants and needs respected by others.
  24. I have the right to be treated with dignity and respect.
  25. I have the right to be happy.

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Responding to Aggression

  1. Reflection: Reflect back on what the other person is saying to demonstrate that the message has been received. If you like, add information or self-disclosure.
  2. Repeated assertion: Instead of justifying personal feelings, opinions, or desires, repeat the original point. This requires ignoring issues that are not relevant or are meant to push buttons.
  3. Pointing out assumptions of the aggressor’s opinion or position: Do this and then wait for a response. Then state your own opinion or position.
  4. Use “I” statements: “I think,” “I feel,” etc. Also, talk specifically and not generally. “It makes me feel ______ when you do ______.”
  5. Ask questions: Questions are especially effective against non verbal aggression. Questions help the individual become more aware of non-warranted reactions and behaviors.
  6. Paradoxical statements: Making a statement that will make others realize that their aggressive statement could backfire on them.
  7. Time out: Stop, and pause. You can do this by excusing yourself in some way, such as ending a phone conversation. This is helpful when you need time to think about how you want to respond, such as refusing a request or demand.
  8. Repeat back: When you do not think that another individual is listening to you, ask a question such as, “What do you think I am asking for?”, or “What is your understanding of what I just said?”
  9. Feedback reversal: Clarify what you think is being said to you by restating what has been said, in your own words. For example, “Are you saying yes?”
  10. Clipping: If you feel like you are under attack, do not want the discussion to be prolonged, and do not feel like you want to defend your position, then answer directly: “yes” or “no.”
  11. The most effective negotiators bypass insults and treat them as accidents. They might use phrases like, “I might have phrased that differently, but I get your drift,” or “That’s not the first or last time I’ve heard something along those lines, but let’s get back to where we were making progress,” to steer a conversation headed for conflict back onto a more productive path.

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Choose Your Battles

Difficult conversations take time and energy from your life that sometimes would be unwise to spend. Be sure you are only confronting situations that matter. It is easy to get caught up in the moment and think that an issue is vital to you, when it would be healthier for you to step back from the situation. Here are some signs such a conversation might be better left avoided and not pushed:

  1. There’s a low probability of winning without doing excessive damage.
  2. Upon reflection, winning isn’t as important as it originally seemed.
  3. There likely will be a time down the line when you can raise the issue again with a different person or in a different way.
  4. If the other party’s style is provocative whether speaking with you or others, it’s not worth taking personally
  5. You could win on the immediate issue, but lose big in terms of the relationship.

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Content Created by Zezette

Published and Formatted by Xtream