communication skills

Difficult conversations just got easier

Some of the more frequent areas we are asked to work on with individuals and teams include enhancing communication skills, conflict management, and difficult conversations. These are not lightweight conversations and while some may enjoy the challenge ‘conflict’ brings, others are skeptical or even averse to engaging in the difficult or potential conflict evoking conversation.

So what is it that makes difficult conversation hard and why do we say it just got easier?

Difficult conversations require courage, emotional intelligence, and savvy communication and leadership skills – no matter what title or role you hold in an organization, including with your family and friends. It also requires you to have some sense of personal power, in other words – work on yourself and your personal development rather than worry about fixing or correcting the others in the conversation. Sounds simple, but it is challenging. We know this from our work and from our own personal development. It’s why there are so many resources to support us in developing communication skills, dealing with conflict and having those challenging conversations. We each have our favorite authors and influencers in this area, and we’ve appreciated what we’ve learned and applied as part of our own development, personally and professionally. Notice our inclusion of ‘applied’ in the previous sentence – the application of what we learn is really important to integrating learning into practice. This principle is what spurred us to create Back Pocket Coach as a tool to use for applied learning, practice, and ultimately habit to approach those potentially challenging or difficult conversations with ease.

Click here to get Back Pocket Coach on Amazon Kindle!


We saw successful clients challenged by bully bosses and boards as they devolved into emotional turmoil rather than address from a place of strength. We know it’s hard to be strong when people are yelling, and unfortunately bad behavior still happens far too often in all types of places in organizations.

So how can you combat bad behavior and stay strong?

Try strategy #26 in back pocket coach: Assume positive intent. No matter what the other person is saying or doing remember they are human and they are probably doing the best they know how to at any given moment in time – even if it seems like they should know better. So Assume positive intent – Working with others can be challenging. Our emotions may cause us to question their intent or motivation, especially when they seem to be in opposition to ours. Next time, try this: Before assuming you “know” what the other person’s intention is, ask! Then methodically reflect back what you hear them say. This simple act of clarifying will calm your nervous system and allow you to set the tone for a positive dialogue.

Remember, you have the power to make the difference!

Back Pocket Coach Strategy #20: May I ask a question?


Have you ever been in a meeting that has gotten off track and no one, including the meeting organizer, seems to be able to get everyone refocused? Or you’re having a 1-on-1 conversation with your supervisor or colleague about a specific topic and, before you know it, the conversation has veered off course and devolved into something completely irrelevant? There is a brilliantly simple method you can use to refocus a meeting or conversation in a way that respects the people involved and, at the same time, gets everyone back on topic. Simply ask the person responsible for the digression: “May I ask a question?” In a meeting an example of a question could relate to a specific agenda topic. As in, “Earlier you mentioned…which I found extremely relevant to our programmatic goals. Could you elaborate on this?”

When you ask this question, several things happen. First, you are asking permission to enter the conversation, which respects the person who is speaking. Next, asking the question implies your interest in his input. And, if you do this in a meeting, it can also serve to elicit participation from someone who has not yet spoken. Ask the question, then follow with, “I’d like to hear Bob’s thoughts.”

Try “May I ask a question?” You will be amazed at how well this works. And it will also strengthen your connection with the other person.

Strategy #20 “May I ask a question?” | | @RossCoach | @CoachDianeB

Reclaim your power now.

Business woman flexing her muscles to show power, isolated on white background Power is an emotion-evoking word. We might admire or fear power, depending upon the context. We hope to have power for what matters — to influence others and to make an impact. That said, power takes on many forms.

The idea of giving away our power — especially unwittingly — is not a welcome thought. Yet no matter how seasoned or accomplished we may be, we all have the ability to get triggered into giving our power away at some time or another.

Some ways we give up our power:

  • Your boss or supervisor goes on the offensive and you get intimidated and just shut down.
  • You are given more than you can manage in the time allotted and you did not negotiate — now all you can do is complain.
  • A colleague is not carrying his weight on a project and it’s putting stress on you. You don’t know how to talk to him, so you don’t. You end up working harder and resenting it.

The common denominator in these scenarios is that you’re out of dialogue. (One-way conversations are not dialogue.) Being in dialogue is empowering for everyone. So how do you get back into dialogue?

The kind of power we’re talking about here only manifests in two-way communication.

When you’re in dialogue, you’re in power.

The following two strategies will help you get and stay in dialogue:

Back Pocket Coach Strategy #4: Help me understand...

You think you understand someone and later find you misinterpreted! “Help me understand” is a way of making sure you are both on the same page. It can also help you remain calm, rather than be hijacked by an emotional reaction. For example: “Help me understand the purpose behind this process.” “Help me understand” also lets the person know you value what he says.

Back Pocket Coach Strategy #12: What expectations do you have of me?

Whether we realize it or not, we all bring different expectations to the table. Instead of assuming you are both on the same page regarding, for example, who’s going to do what by when, clarify! By asking this simple question, you are implicitly conveying your commitment and interest in being aligned with what needs to be done.

We would all ideally like to respond with strategies like these in the perfect moment. But sometimes you miss the perfect moment. If this happens, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, schedule a revisit of the conversation with your supervisor, colleague, client or others, using one of the above strategies. Doing so speaks to your strength and actually gives you the ability to fortify the relationship because it shows that you cared enough to think about it.

As one of our colleagues so aptly put it, “Relationships are built one conversation at a time.” Now that’s powerful.

Get Back Pocket Coach on Amazon here!