“We need to talk.” How to handle a difficult conversation

With Mercury still retrograde in Gemini — and the Venus-Saturn trine offering some passion-and-discipline harmony — the timing is good for a piece about how to help those “we need to talk” conversations go well. This piece originally appeared in MaineToday.com, where you can read the second half of the article. — Amanda P.

By Amy Wood, Psy.D.

My job involves a lot of listening and talking (in that order) and so it goes that a topic of conversation I get in a lot is, well, just that — conversation. Conversation is important in forging connections, processing emotions, figuring out solutions, but there’s an unfortunate lack of real live conversation in a world that increasingly seems to value technological transactions over face-to-face discourse. And we need conversation when misunderstandings and other interpersonal obstacles arise.

Amy Wood, Ph.D.

Amy Wood, Psy.D.

That last one, those “we need to talk” conversations, is what comes up most. How to summon the courage to speak honestly from the heart. How to confront another person without hurting feelings. How to approach delicate matters without causing anger or shame.

Just last week I was conversing about, you got it, conversation, with my colleague David Lee, a consultant known for helping business professionals have productive exchanges about challenging issues.  We agreed that the hardest part of those “we need to talk” conversations is getting started.

Approaching another person about a tense topic is never simple, and David suggests we can ease the process considerably by keeping these three ice-breaking pointers in mind:

Make it your problem even when it isn’t

David says that many of his clients, accomplished professionals who strive for fulfilling relationships at home and work, put off difficult conversations because they’re fed up with having to accept responsibility for problems they haven’t caused. Why, they lament, should they have to take on the task of addressing yet another person’s poor performance; shouldn’t the onus be on the misbehaving person to step up to the plate for a change?

David points out that not all of us are evolved enough to recognize when a “we need to talk” talk is in order, and even less of us are equipped with the social repertoire to open up the floor for a candid chat. If you’re interpersonally adept, then why not exercise your social strength by getting the ball rolling? Instead of feeling resentful, appreciate that social sensitivity is your specialty and take the lead. By demonstrating the importance of getting a difficult conversation going, you can be a role model for others who aren’t similarly gifted.

Continue reading here.


Amy Wood, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist with deep knowledge of human nature and a gift for helping adults become their own versions of successful. She facilitates growth and development through psychotherapy, coaching, mediation, speaking and training engagements, consulting, and writing.  Dr. Wood is award-winning author of Life Your Way:  Refresh Your Approach to Success and Breathe Easier in a Fast-paced World and writes the Living Smart blog for Mainetoday.com

David Lee is the founder and principal of HumanNature@work and the creator of Stories That Change. He’s an internationally recognized authority on organizational and managerial practices that optimize employee performance, morale, and engagement. He is also the author of “Managing Employee Stress and Safety,” as well over 60 articles and book chapters.

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