How to Avoid Conversational Disaster


These are some easy tips to keep in mind when the time comes to have some sort of emotionally sensitive conversation with your partner, friend, or business contact.

You could consider printing out this article as a quick reference guide in those circumstances. This guest post was written and contributed by Jason McDonald. 


Before the Conversation

Is Now a Good Time?
Hey, I want to talk to you about something that’s on my mind, is now a good time or do you want to talk later? If they’re distracted or in the middle of something you probably won’t have their undivided attention.

Be Prepared for Resistance
A lot of people aren’t used to genuine communication, so at first they might put up even stronger walls. If that happens, feel free to pause until things have calmed down and you can try again.


Beginning of the Conversation

Give Disclaimers
I want to talk to you about some feelings I have, and at the same time, I’m worried I’m going to come across in a negative way on accident. That’s definitely not what I’m trying to do… I’m not trying to criticize you or hurt your feelings.

Ask Permission to Speak Freely
Is it okay if I vent for a bit, and will you try to see past my words and let your guard down a bit?

Be Vulnerable
Now I know that I do ___ sometimes too, so I definitely get it, and at the same time I feel ___. Let them know you can relate to them, which will help them feel like you’re on the same side.


During the Conversation

Avoid Assumptions
Try not to make statements telling someone what they did. If you need to say something, add phrases like “this came across to me as” or “I felt like," and remind them that you could be wrong and that’s why you’re asking for clarification.

Ask Questions
Since you really aren’t in that person’s head, you can only guess what they were thinking. Try to ask genuine, open ended questions like “is this how you meant to come across?” or “do I have the wrong idea about this?” That gives them an opportunity to explain how they feel. Try to avoid interrogations or leading questions.

Common Goal
Emphasize that you have a common goal, which is to get to the heart of the issue so that your relationship will be better for the both of you.


Emergency Exit
If you feel things are getting heated or the other person is starting to get too defensive, tell them you’d like to take a break for a minute so you can think of how to better express what you want to say. Remind them you’re taking the break because you want to have a healthy conversation and not because you just don’t care.


End of the Conversation

Don't Expect Quick Answers
If you’re wanting an answer on something from them, let them know you want to give them time to think about it and can talk again later, that way they won’t feel the pressure of answering immediately.

Thank Them
Regardless of the outcome, you can thank them for being willing to listen, and remind them that the common goal of all of this is to strategize on making things better.