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How best avoid difficult conversations

- By Dwaipayan, 02 July 2021 | 5 MIN READ


Conversations can take the wrong turn when you’re anxious or stressed out no matter how prepared you are. Your best placed plans will crash if you offend or anger the other person.

Here are some common mistakes one can avoid — words and phrases that can slip into our vocabulary — and explanations for why they often cause trouble.

Don’t assume your viewpoint is obvious

At times, if you feel like you’re 100 percent right, you may tend to use words such as “obviously” “clearly,”,” or “beyond doubt.” If you do this, you’re falling prey to naive realism.

We’re seldom in such an objectively black-or-white situation, and reasonable people may see things differently than you or need more convincing to come around to your viewpoint. Not surprisingly, when your words (inadvertently) suggest that any divergent views are stupid or inconsequential, others may feel railroaded or insulted. 

Don’t overstate, exaggerate!

When you’re speaking with someone who has upset you on multiple occasions, you may find yourself inadvertently resorting to using phrases such as “You always …” or “You never…”

Overemphasis undermines your overall credibility and leads to a debate about frequency instead of substance. State that specific date or occasion that runs counter to your claim. If you intend to get someone to start or stop doing something, a retort on that.

Stop advising! Don’t tell others what they should do

Telling someone what they should do contains an implicit value judgment. People feel judged by “should” statements — and don’t think that they wouldn’t come to the right conclusion without your input. You can best use phrases like, “You might consider” or “One possibility is” or “Have you thought of?” to increase your odds of having the conversation

Don’t blame others for your feelings

Watch out for what you say when you’re upset about something.

For example, imagine your colleague interrupts you when you start to speak and you immediately experience physical reactions — your face flushes, your heart rate spikes. You may feel the urge to say, “You make me so angry when you interrupt me,” but, if you do so, there’s a good chance you’ll end up in an argument.

You can always say, “Hey, when you interrupt me so immediately like that, I feel lost in my focus. Could you please not do that?” Or could say please not interrupt me until I’m finished.

Avoid stating “It’s not personal”.

In my experience, people say “It’s not personal” or “Don’t take it personally” when they (subconsciously) know it’s quite personal for the other person.

There’s a great example of this in the movie You’ve Got Mail when the big-box bookstore executive (Tom Hanks) tells the small, independent bookstore owner (Meg Ryan) that it’s not personal that he’s going to put her multi-generational family bookstore out of business by opening a massive store nearby. That’s deeply personal to her so, understandably, hearing this phrase only makes Meg Ryan’s character even angrier.

The good news is that getting the small stuff right too is imminently doable — it just takes commitment to notice and minimize the use of these problematic words and phrases.

Once And For All, when you’re in the middle of a tough conversation, it’s common to focus solely on yourself: your ideas, your viewpoint, your feelings. But a “very individualistic” approach can backfire. To reach your goal, you need to think outside yourself. 



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