• Russ Powell

Three Steps for Having Better Difficult Conversations

Good stuff on differentiating between conflict and disagreement from Amy E. Gallo, author of Getting Along and HBR Guide for Dealing with Conflict.


She offers several rules of thumb for having difficult conversations—a prep step and three action steps.

The PREP STEP – In order to have a productive difficult conversation, you must prepare for it. Thoughtfully. Doesn’t have to take long—could be a matter of only a few seconds, but you must prepare.


STEP ONE – Try to see the situation from the other person’s point-of-view. Not easy, but essential. Ask yourself:

  • Why are they behaving the way they are?

  • What are their motivations?

  • What is the most generous interpretation of what’s going on for the other?

STEP TWO – Ask yourself, What do I want from the conversation? In Middle Path parlance, we’d ask what is winning and what is successWhat is the ideal outcome (conditional)? And how do I want to conduct myself (unconditional)?


STEP THREE – Don’t take it personally. Try to discern What is it we’re actually disagreeing about? Remember that, as humans, we tend to disagree more on task (goal) and process (how) issues, and less on personal issues? Figuring out what we’re disagreeing on makes it easier to not take it personally.


Gallo also offers a brilliant mantra for navigating conflict. If you struggle w/ conflict, consider repeating this to yourself (or even out loud) over and over again: Sometimes people are going to be mad at you. And that’s okay.

Sometimes people are going to be mad at you. And that’s okay.

Remember that, as leaders, when we improve the quality of our difficult conversations, we improve our ability to solve problems. And when we solve problems better, we create ultimate value for our teams and our organizations. After all, being a good leader is being a good solver of problems (and an enabler of the problem solving skills of others).


Check out Gallo's full TEDx talk on YouTube.

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