7 Steps to Prepare for a Difficult Conversation

Ron Edmondson: “The hardest conversation is often the most needed.”

In a tweet and Facebook post recently I said, “The hardest conversation is often the most needed.”

It was as a result of my counsel to another pastor in a leadership setting. I happen to encourage those type conversations often. Apparently, from the retweets and “Likes,” it’s a frequent issue. In relationships, there is a consistent need to have difficult conversations. Often leaders, spouses, and friends avoid them, but it’s often to the detriment of the relationship.

I decided to expand beyond Twitter length encouragement. Do you need to have a difficult conversation?

Here are 7 steps to prepare for a difficult conversation:

1. Conviction

There first needs to be some sense of urgency towards having the conversation. People who have frequent hard conversations just to have hard conversations are obnoxious at best. Hard conversations, where you challenge someone, confront a situation or address sensitive issues should be rare, not normal. Make sure you know it’s something you must do in order to improve the situation or protect the relationship.

2. Prayer

You should pray as a part of the conviction process also, but this is prayer after you know you are moving forward. Pray for God’s favor on the conversation, open hearts for you and the other party, and for God’s resolution to be realized.

3. Notes

Jot down the main points you are trying to make. You might read this post. It’s about how to write a sensitive letter, but the points in it will help you prepare for a face-to-face conversation also. You want to be prepared. The main issues are to be factual, to the point, but kind, truthful, and helpful. Be willing to assume blame where needed.

4. Setting

Time and place are critical in difficult situations. You should never “attack” someone in ways that will embarrass them more or add unnecessary stress to the situation. Be strategic with your when and where.

5. Rehearsal

Go through your notes and your part of the conversation. Imagine if someone was having this conversation with you and how you would respond. You can’t determine how they will respond, but you can rehearse how you will respond. The more you do this the better you’ll be able to control your emotions when the time comes.

6. Action

Do it. You need to plan the when, as stated above, but the longer you wait the harder and more awkward it will be. Have the conversation while you’re prepared and in a prayerful mindset about the situation.

7. Follow up

Most likely the conversation won’t end with the conversation. You will need to check in with the person, send them a follow up email, phone call or even another meeting. You may need to reiterate your care for them personally even after the conversation. If nothing more is needed between you and the person, at least take time to think through how the conversation went so you can learn from it and be better prepared for future difficult conversations. You can be assured of additional opportunities.

What steps or advice would you add?

Ron Edmondson
Ron Edmondson is a pastor and church leader passionate about planting churches, helping established churches thrive, and assisting pastors and those in ministry think through leadership, strategy and life. Ron has over 20 years business experience, mostly as a self-employed business owner, and he's been helping church grow vocationally for over 10 years.