Business Communication · Employee Coaching · Personal Competencies · Social Competencies

Manage Difficult Conversations Like A Pro!

8 Techniques For Defusing Tension In Conflicted Situations

When interacting with coworkers or customers who are agitated, it can be challenging to listen completely and focus on WHAT is being said, not HOW it is being said. It can be hard to set the goal of understanding the situation from the other person’s point of view, when you’d rather not be dealing with the person at all in that moment.

However, having the skills to turn difficult conversations into relationship-building moments can gain long-term customers and leadership opportunities. In short, these are skills employees can take to the bank. Without defusing skills, little conflicts can turn into exhausting and explosive episodes which take a toll on us on several layers. Anyone in a leadership position would be wise to focus on these 8 Diffusing Techniques and practice! Practice! Practice!

1. Thank the person: “Thank you for being honest with me about how you are feeling.”

2. Use empathy: “If I were in the same situation, I’d probably feel the same way.” Steps one and two give you the chance to buy some time and get your critical thinking and listening skills in place, especially if the person’s behaviors are blind-siding you.

3. Apologize appropriately without blame: I’m sorry this happened and I assure you I will do what I can to make this right for you.” No need to throw coworkers under the bus – take responsibility for moving closer to a resolution.

4. Confirm understanding: “Just to make sure I’m understanding the situation…” Feed back what happened and the result of what happened. Before you start throwing solutions at the problem, you can also confirm your understanding of what the customer wants: “What would you like to see as a solution?” or, “In an ideal situation, how would you like this to be handled?”

5. Assure and establish accountability: “Okay, now that I understand the situation, I have a couple of options we can pursue. After I explain your options, you can tell me which one you’d like me to follow through on.”

6. Use selective agreement to build rapport: “Yes, I agree, you should not have had to deal with this…or call us back…or wait…” The idea is to find something to agree with, even if you don’t agree with everything the other person is saying.

7. Set limits if needed: “It’s my goal to help you (or make this right for you). I’m on your side, so please help me help you by stopping the swearing so I can focus on understanding this situation from your point of view.”

8. Close with forward-looking goodwill: “Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to work this out with you. I’d much rather you be honest than holding things in and being upset without me understanding what’s going on. Our work relationship is important to me, and I want us to be as productive as possible moving forward.”

Customers: “Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to work this out with you. I’d much rather you come in/call than being dissatisfied without us knowing. Now that we’ve got this situation worked out, is there anything else I can do for you?”

Listen in as training participants role play the 8 Techniques for Defusing Tension!

I had a great group of about 30 participants in the Achieve Global Managing Difficult Conversations training I facilitated recently. They were good sports about letting me record them for the podcast!

Here’s the direct link to listen to this episode of the Relatable Leader podcast:

You can subscribe to the Relatable Leader podcast on iTunes and Stitcher.

You can request a FREE downloadable and printable PDF of this article by sending me an email request from my website:

Pay attention to the types of conversations which are especially difficult for you and track your trends. What is it about these conversations that challenge you? When are you able to effectively use these defusing techniques, and when do you allow your emotions to hijack your conversation skills and instead react with unproductive words and behaviors? I recommend keeping a log for six months to increase your self-awareness around difficult conversations and your practice of these techniques.


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