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Difficult Conversations

Written by: Nancy McCormack MSN, RN NC-BC, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Why is it that we often avoid difficult conversations? Is it because it makes us uncomfortable? Or are we afraid of the other person's, or even our own, reaction? Knowing how to have that conversation is key to effective communication.

Here are a few steps to prepare:

Identify and reflect; Initially, we want to discover what makes this conversation so difficult. Is this a difference in opinion? Are we personally motivated by the topic? Reflect on your own belief system. Take a personal inventory of the true situation without bias from emotion, personal values, or beliefs.

Set the tone; Going into a conversation, we don’t often recognize our own tone and body language. Our tone of voice can frequently set the unintentional stage for pending conflict. Remember, emails and text messages are mono-tone and are left to the interpretation of the reader. Re-read your message prior to sending it if personal contact is not an option. Avoid using “ you need to,” “ we need to,” “ I have decided,” and “ you should have,” as these can be presumed defensive statements by nature. Be clear as to why you want to have a follow-up conversation using terms such as; “ I’d like to clarify” and “ can we meet for clarification.”

Creating the space and environment; Choosing a location is almost as important as choosing your words. Look for a location suitable for a conversation with enough privacy, so it allows the conversation to be free. Consider noise level, time of day, and atmosphere. Will it put you both at ease to speak your mind?

How to approach the topic; During the initial encounter, don’t wear your feelings on your sleeve. Remember to smile, nod, and handshake; let your company know you appreciate them meeting with you. A gesture of acknowledgment. Try to keep an open mind as this could be just a simple misunderstanding.

The meat and potatoes; Very few people can argue with someone who is being sincere. So be genuine. Statements like “ I felt,” “ I feel,” and “ I’m concerned” let your listener know you have a stake in the matter. Listen to understand, not respond. Active listening helps you better understand the point of view of another. It shows respect and allows you to have an open mind. Make suggestions, not demands. Be empathic when needed and remember, you may not know the underlying reason a person may say something. Avoid blame, ask questions and stay on track.

Find resolution; We must always remember that it’s ok to agree to disagree. We all come from different perspectives, and our perception often dictates our reality. Find a way to mutually resolve the concern, even if it is just acknowledging the purpose of the meeting. Most importantly, don’t harbor any resentment or ill feelings. They negatively impact our health and can greatly affect our peace of mind. Come to terms with the resolution, whatever it may be, and carry on.

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Nancy McCormack MSN, RN NC-BC, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Nancy McCormack is a board certified Nurse Coach focusing on mental health and wellness. Her training throughout almost two decades of Nursing has been exclusive to the mental health population, including substance abuse and eating disorders. She is currently the owner of EverPresent Health and Wellness, dedicating her practice to empowering those struggling with mental health disorders. Nancy focuses on integrative nutrition, mindfulness, and person-centered care to promote wellness and sustainability. She also is a university professor sharing her knowledge and experience with new nurses in order to break down barriers and eliminate the stigma surrounding this population.



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