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Navigating Difficult Conversations

It is Friday, yes, 5 days past when I usually post the blog. And, I am far from the only person I know this week running hard, weaving through holiday cheer, and trying to reach those elusive end of year days off. This year, I’m noting an extra layer of stress flotsam chasing clients and colleagues. Namely, the necessary conversations they are dodging altogether.

To be clear, this is not entry level procrastination. It is not having the resources to engage on a hard topic in a way that is professional and effective. And, even the most effective leaders among us can fall into the hole. It is easy to engage in a difficult conversation and be the bad guy. But, for those of us interested in leading, that simply won’t cut it.

So how do we engage?

At least that part is easy, you need to plan.

The first step is to know clearly and specifically what success looks like for the conversation.

  • What needs to be communicated and what are the preferred outcomes of that messaging?
  • What are specific characteristics of the person or persons with whom you are speaking and how can/will that affect your delivery of the message?
  • Whether the conversation goes well or poorly what happens next?

Once you have a framework for the conversation itself, you need to manage your feelings and reactivity about the conversation. The best way to manage that remains managing one’s vagal responses (for more on the vagus nerve see this post). One easy tool to manage this is a box breath. Breathe in for a count of four, hold for a count of four, exhale for a count of four, hold for a count of four. Repeat that three times and then return to unstructured breathing.

The reason to check in with and resolve your own emotional context is that at least one person must hold a neutral container for hard conversations. If this is your meeting, that person is you.

Then schedule the conversation. Make sure the person or persons involved know in broad strokes what the conversation is about so that they aren’t blindsided. Set an appropriate location with privacy and comfort in mind and then just do the thing. You don’t have to be perfect. You can use notes (really). And you definitely don’t have to become a zen master. Just set yourself up for the best success available by bringing your plan, your preparation, and your compassion into the room.

When it’s done, make sure to give yourself a reward of choice. You definitely earned it.

What are some of your favorite tricks for managing hard talks? I’d love to hear them so send me an email.

GROW Voice, is a Boston-based business.  Founder and CEO, Gina Razón has taught voice and speech for over sixteen years to individuals, organizations and in academic settings.   She is sought after as a teacher of voice and speech, singing, and public presentation.  Gina has a BM and MM in Voice Performance, is a practitioner of Fitzmaurice Voicework and a certified teacher of Somatic Voicework. She has served as voice coach for TEDxCambridge, and speaks at National and local events on all things voice and speech.  Gina is a member of the National Association of Teachers of Singing, The Voice Foundation, the Voice and Speech Trainers Association and the National Speakers Association. More information at

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