préparer une conversation difficile

Preparing a difficult conversation

Rather than avoiding a difficult conversation, know how to prepare for it and seize the opportunity to build a relationship based on trust, express your needs clearly, and strengthen mutual understanding.

Fear of hurting or being blamed often leads to avoiding a conversation. An intercultural or diverse context tends to reinforce this behavior. Yet research shows that avoidance heightens stress and affects mental, emotional, and cognitive health. During one of my last workshops on Constructive Conversations, a participant, whom I will call Laurence here, gave a testimony rich in lessons. Knowing her manager from having previously worked with him, she did not wish to avoid an emotional conversation. She, however, chose to put it off for several days to let her disappointment and anger subside and prepare. Preparation is indeed an essential key to difficult conversations. Let’s review techniques that allow you to overcome avoidance and develop your emotional and cultural Agility.

1. Know your signature

Each of us has our signature when managing tense situations, particularly conversations. Our personality, our culture, our social background, our generation, our experiences, and the context influence this signature.


Taking into account those criteria, situate yourself – with lucidity – on the following axes:



Direct style

Indirect style







Displayed emotions 

Held back emotions

Regularly reflect on recent conversations. You could use these non-exhaustive questions:

To what extent did I achieve my goal?

How did I manage pauses, eye contact, and breathing?

What emotions came up during the conversation?

How did they impact me, my interlocutor, and how the conversation unfolded?

What have I been most successful at?

What can I do better next time?

2. Know your interlocutor

This analysis remains superficial, subject to biases, and provisional! During the conversation, notice the information that confirms and invalidates this first analysis. The more you know the person with whom you will hold the conversation, the easier it will be to use the axes proposed. Let’s not anticipate any further and get back to the preparation.


If you have had the opportunity to note your interlocutor’s values, vocabulary, and metaphors, practice using them as well. This technique requires agility and training but allows you to create a precious climate of trust.


Also, imagine several possible dialogues and adapt your answers to your partner’s personality, culture, and point of view. Again, it is about more than developing fixed scripts but understanding the other person better and adapting your responses flexibly during the exchanges.

3. Know some principles and communicative techniques

You can avoid dead ends by knowing a few communication principles and techniques. Let me insist on the essential role of non-verbal communication. A clenched jaw is sure to destroy a compliment. Worse, the tension can be understood as a lack of sincerity. Aligning the verbal and the non-verbal requires being calm, authentic, and prepared.


In addition to the role of the non-verbal, neuroscience has recently taught us the part of mirror neurons. When we identify an emotion, our neural circuits that correspond to it fire on their own. In other words, without an effort of mindfulness and presence, we can let our partner’s emotions invade us without our knowledge and trigger a deleterious gear.


Finally, knowing communication techniques that defuse tensions by clarifying needs is helpful. For example, Laurence may say to her manager: “When you remain silent after the monthly report is handed in, I feel discouraged because I feel like my investment is not being recognized. I need feedback, even brief, from you within 48 hours.”

4. Know how to navigate your emotions

What do you want from the conversation: clarification, agreement, or recognition? The more your intention is precise, the more your energy will be invested in it, and the more you will be able to refocus the conversation if it deviates.


Finally, just before the conversation, identify your emotional state. As with Laurence, seize the opportunity if you can wait to be calm. Otherwise, quickly find serenity and presence by using breathing techniques or clenching and releasing your fists several times.


In the longer term, practicing meditation or keeping a journal allows you to recognize an emotion, accept it and take ownership of it to transform difficult conversations into many opportunities to grow and learn.

Know how to prepare yourself to overcome your apprehension and temptation to avoid a difficult conversation. Like Laurence, you will surely obtain clarifications, reassurance, essential information, and peace of mind. 

If you want to know more about Constructive Conversations, listen to the micro-podcast dedicated to them, and to develop your Cultural Agility, register for one of our seminars or training programs.


Other posts

le gite de Villaret

Du 7 au 9 juillet 2023 dans le Poitou

Développez votre Agilité culturelle

Management interculturel par le coaching, le théâtre et la mise en récit

Scroll to Top