Contrary to the decline we have seen in public discourse in recent years, not every uncomfortable interaction has to devolve into a torrent of insults and vitriol. There are ways to approach tense, even adversarial, conversations with the confidence that you can achieve the outcome you want without a volatile exchange. The next time you have to deliver a difficult message to a colleague, a customer, or even your boss, try these suggestions:

Begin with honesty.

If you or your company made a mistake, admit it. Nothing creates a basis for agreement more than trust and nothing promotes trust more than honesty. A simple, “we dropped the ball and we want to make it right” is sometimes all it takes to turn a situation around. No excuses. Remember to be honest with yourself about how to realistically move forward.

Know the facts.

Suppose you are asked to defend a decision that you don’t fully understand. Create lists of what you know and what you don’t know so that you can ask the right questions to prepare for the conversation. Keep accurate records so that when the time comes to make your case, you’ll have all the information you need to demonstrate in a clear, concise manner why you are correct. There’s no need to shout. Let the facts speak for themselves.

Listen intently.

Bad news will always provoke a response. People will want to lament how they’ve been treated unfairly. They may see themselves as a victim. They may connect your message to a past experience where their interests were not protected. No matter how irrational it seems, hear them out. Notice the words they choose and be ready to repeat them back in a question such as, “When you said X, did you mean Y or is it more like Z?”

This does two things:

  1. It lets the person know they’ve been heard.
  2. It helps you reframe the conversation and pivot from disappointment to resolution.

Refuse abuse.

No one, not a boss, a customer, or a co-worker has the right to treat you with disrespect. With that in mind, you can approach any situation with the knowledge that you have the power to decide just how much you will allow a person to rant or vent. You have complete control over your own response. Sometimes that means you have to stand your ground. Sometimes you have to walk away.

Imagine the possible.

Play out the scenario in your head. Ask yourself, what’s the worst thing that could happen? Anything short of a violent altercation is probably within your capacity to handle. When you deliver unpleasant news – a project is taking longer than expected, the report had an egregious error that your team didn’t catch, circumstances outside your control have made a transaction unprofitable – whatever it is, focus on what you CAN do rather than what you cannot. This may mean negotiating a compromise or managing expectations. It may mean asking for help.

Conflict happens. Don’t let fear rob you of the opportunity to rise to the occasion. When you find yourself tasked with an uneasy conversation, communicate with the intent to help others make the best of a difficult situation.

You just might discover you are good at it.

PHOTO PROMPT © J Hardy Carroll

The second it happens, ain’t no way we’re gettin’ outta there. Jeffery and me, we was friends since birth, so, once I committed to his plan, that was it. All we could hope was to give his brother the punishing he deserved before he killed us.

“Git down,” Jeffery whispered. “and wait for the signal, okay?”

“Okay,” I giggled back in anticipation.

I got ready. The gym door slammed against the wall.

“What the hell’s my locker doin’ open?”

Jeffery leaped to his feet and shouted, “Now!”

Who knew that a skunk in a backpack could be so much fun?



It’s Friday Fictioneer time again. Thanks to Rochelle Wisoff-Fields and J. Hardy Carroll for the prompt. You can read their stories and more here.

2 a.m. – Couldn’t sleep. Watched Chelsea Handler’s stand-up special “Evolution” and felt emboldened, as only Chelsea can make you feel.

3:20 – Wrote, edited, and ultimately deleted thirty-seven comments on Instagram about Chelsea Handler’s stand-up special.

4 a.m. – Tried to go back to sleep.

10:30 a.m. – Noticed that I must have dozed off.

10:44 a.m. – Made my way into the kitchen, started coffee, checked to see if ANYONE commented on my blog post, LinkedIn post, Instagram post, Mighty Networks post, replied to my emails, or played me on Words with Friends.

10:53 – Fell onto the sofa in utter shame after reading my brother’s response to a text exchange about our dad who is having difficulty getting doctors to listen to him.

                Me: “I wish there was something I could do to help him.”

                Brother: “Show up.”

Spent some time being pissed off.

3:52 p.m. – Looked at the clock.

So, as you can see, it was turning out to be a less than productive day. Then I decided I needed to organize myself to get at least one thing accomplished. My job was recently eliminated and the two potential, and unsolicited, opportunities that I’d been contacted about had evaporated. Honestly, why do people contact you about jobs and then say, “Nah, we decided to go in a different direction.”?

What an insult!

I digress. I opened a new Word document. The doorbell rang. I rushed to see who it was only to find I was too late to engage the Amazon delivery person in conversation about the sudden change in the weather. She was already moving on to her next stop. I returned to the kitchen table where I’ve been camped out since March. First, to work and then to look for work.

One by one, I began to open tabs on my computer, as one does when selecting the perfect medium to unleash creative genius. My inner dream weaver has become a meme maker. So, of course, a scroll through my vast photo library was in order.

4:22 p.m. Having accomplished virtually nothing today, I decided happy hour starts whenever you feel like it from now on! Enjoy the video.

Choctaw Nation

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