Seventh Edition
 June 14, 2011
The Art of the Difficult Conversation – Part I of a Four Part Series

How do you handle “difficult” conversations? By “difficult,” I mean conversations about topics that cause great discomfort between you and another person or persons. Examples of difficult conversations include firing an employee, giving a negative performance appraisal, talking with your teenager about a topic he or she is defensive about, giving unwelcome but necessary advice to your elderly parents, and breaking up a romantic relationship. Good public speaking skills can be helpful during a difficult conversation. However, the skills that are essential for successfully negotiating a difficult conversation are a special sub-set and can be learned by anyone who has an open heart and a willing spirit. In creating a workshop on this topic (see, I found three excellent sources which I have read cover to cover and can recommend to my readers: The Anatomy of Peace, by the Arbinger Institute; Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler; Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen.

The first step in the art of the difficult conversation is foundational: Start with the Heart.

Arbinger Institute’s The Anatomy of Peace states that most interpersonal problems are not failures of strategy but failures of Way of Being. Your way of being is reflected in how you regard the other person. When you are speaking with another person, you have opportunities to think, say or do what you know to be true and right in terms of the other person. If you honor this sense, you will see the other person as a person -- a human being with all that goes in to being human: strengths and weaknesses, pains, fears, and desires. If you betray this sense, you will see the other person as an object. When that happens, you will have a need to justify why you chose to betray your sense of what is right and true and honorable. For example, if you have to fire an employee, you can choose to honor your sense and talk with that employee as a fellow human being who has to undergo a life-transition. Your employee will sense the way you regard him or her. While not wavering from delivering the unwelcome news, you will do everything you can to soften the blow and show possible paths that the employee can follow in looking for another job. Your employee will sense that you are not dishonoring him but are doing what you know to be in the best interests of the business.

On the other hand, if you betray your sense, you will see the person you are firing as an object and forget the basic humanness of that person. You will see yourself as having to get rid of a nuisance and will seek to do your job as efficiently as possible with no regard to the pain of the person you are firing. In so doing, you will seek to justify your attitude by reminding yourself of all the reasons why that person needs to be removed from your company’s payroll. The person you are firing will sense the betrayal of your higher sense and will feel the pain of the departure more keenly because he feels dishonored in the process. Read how this concept applies in leadership situations at

The Arbinger Institute states that there are two choices for the state of heart during a difficult conversation: you can choose to speak from a Heart at Peace or a Heart at War. When you speak from a heart at peace, you see others as people, with hopes, needs, cares, and fears as real as your own. When you speak from a heart at war, you see others as objects. You will see the person you are addressing as an obstacle, a problem, and an inconvenience. Going against your sense of what is right is an act of self-betrayal. Others’ faults immediately become inflated because by choosing a heart at war, you create a need to be justified for violating the truth you know. This is called justification.

Justification put you in boxes – boxes that negatively affect your views of: yourself, the other person, the world, and your feelings. If you find yourself in such a box, the good news is that you can get out of it. The moment you recover a desire to help, you are out of the box. Then the question is how to stay out of the box.

Here are four important questions for the heart to ask before you have a crucial conversation (Crucial Conversations, Patterson, et al.):

  • What do I really want for myself?
  • What do I really want for others?
  • What do I really want for the relationship?
  • How would I behave if I really wanted these results?

    Watch for part II of this topic in the July E-newsletter. Check out a couple of workshops that utilize relationship concepts:

    For sales teams – How to Quickly Build rapport with Your Prospects, see

Quote to Think About

“The deepest way in which we are right or wrong is in our way of being toward others. I can be right on the surface – in my behavior or positions – while being entirely mistaken beneath, in my Way of Being.”
-- The Anatomy of Peace, The Arbinger Institute

Recommended Resource

QBQ! The Question Behind the Question ®
by By John G. Miller

The best book I've read so far on personal accountability. In this easy to read and engaging book, I found a simple but powerful question formula that eliminates victim thinking, procrastinating, and blaming, and instead, leads to answers that will help me become part of the solution to a problem. The answers are in the questions!

History-Making News!
Dilip Takes Mind Mapping to Sri Lanka

On May 24, 2011, The Cinnamon Grand Hotel in Colombo, Sri Lanka held the first-ever Mind Mapping workshop in Sri Lanka. Forty-four participants learned how to use the mind mapping process to engage in whole-brain thinking and have fun with their minds!

Here are quotes from some participants. Most important benefits gained and the quality of the training:

“Realized how to live LIFE!! Simply put – anything is possible!! It opened out a whole new world!! Amazing, superb, magnificent, mind-blowing, and other adjectives of the English language.” Mahishaa Balraj

“[I learned] How to life map and put the most important things into perspective. A useful tool for business communication and strategic planning, note taking and note making. [The quality was] Fantastic. Very learner-centered. [It led to] self-discovery and a wonderful experience being with, sharing, and learning with Dilip.” -- Dananjaya Hettiarachchi

“It is a total package for life – many learnings which can be put into use very easily. Leadership traits were learned. Many good modules were introduced today, most importantly the left brain/right brain combined usage.” -- Crysanthi Thambiah

See information about the Mind Mapping – Unlock Your Creative Genius workshop at


June, July, August: Speech Coaching for Business Professionals
By appointment For information & to register, visit

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Dilip Abayasekara, Ph.D., A.S. | PO Box 405, Enola, PA 17025 
Phone: 717.728.2203 | Cell: 717.648.1080 | Fax: 717.728.2296