Difficult Conversations

Difficult Conversations

Posted by Jan Lawrence

This resource includes a formula which can be a useful guide in times when you need to have difficult conversations.

Difficult Conversations

As a starting point, it helps if you can accept that it is not possible to change another person’s personality.  What you can attempt to do is modify their behaviour.  Concentrate on developing confidence in what you can do, rather than dissipate energy trying to achieve the impossible.

If you are aiming to be more effective in your interactions with difficult people, it helps to plan and prepare.  Think about what you are going to do and say in advance, what outcomes you want, where you should do it and when.  Timing is important – the longer you put off having a difficult conversation the more difficult it becomes.

Avoid turning the conversation into a personal battle where  you want to “beat” the other person.  Try and aim for a situation where both of you emerge with dignity.  As part of this, avoid dealing with issues in front of an audience.  Apart from anything else, it may play into the other person’s hands to have an audience.  People who are difficult are often very good at it and probably better at being difficult than you are at dealing with it!

The Introduce/Impact/Inform/Incentive Framework

The following formula is a good structure to help you to have a successful difficult conversation:

This framework allows you to state clearly what it is you want, to express your feelings regarding the impact the person’s current behaviour has on you, to say how you would like them to change their behaviour and to explain the benefits of that change to both of you.

It’s very easy to allow our feelings to “stew” so that when we do finally say something, it comes out inappropriately – aggressively, sarcastically, apologetically – all of which weaken the impact and your position.  You may even make matters worse by antagonising the other person.

For Example

“It really hacks me off when you miss deadlines!  Have you any idea of the work it causes other people??!”

“Why can’t you put the bins out?  It’s hardly rocket science? A two-year old could do it!  I don’t know why I’m wasting my breath!”


Introduce/Impact/Inform/Incentive framework

Introduce –  when you…. (describe behaviour)

Impact –  it makes me feel… ( describe your feelings)

Inform –  what I want is… (describe desired behaviour)

Incentive –  that way, we can… (describe benefits to both parties)

Work-based examples

  • When we attend meetings you often take over when I’m talking (introduce)
  • This irritates me and I feel undermined in front of the others (impact)
  • I would prefer that you let me finish speaking before adding any comments you wish to make. (inform)
  • This will improve the image we portray as a team and mean that you can concentrate more on your topics (incentive)

Home-based examples

  • When you don’t put the rubbish out on Tuesdays (introduce)
  • It makes me feel stressed, as we miss the collections and rubbish piles up (impact)
  • I want you to put it out on Monday nights before you go to bed (inform)
  • That way, I won’t be stressed and won’t have a go at you (incentive)