Difficult Conversations

A means of approaching a difficult conversation that enlists a joint effort in solving an agreed upon problem, instead of a defensive response that creates a struggle.

This model is close to Non-violent Communication.  The main difference in this model is that is begins with a more structured empathy, and finds the other person right at the beginning.  In NVC, sometimes the expression of one’s own feelings and needs is perceived as an attack, even when not intended that way.

  • Situation would include Observations
  • Emotions includes the Feelings
  • Ends includes Needs
  • Request can be part of the Means, although in this model the mutual solution is best offered by the approached person, taking into account the feelings and needs of everyone involved.

The first four pieces of the model are intended to get past the virtually instinctive, defensive wall people put up when confronted by naming the bricks (defensive positions) in the wall before they speak.  The more bricks you can name, the less defensive they’ll be when they speak, as you’ve already taken the words out of their mouth.  You want to name every brick in that wall you can, and hopefully even bricks they didn’t know were there.  You are taking their perspective, regardless of your own at this time.

The Means portion of the model can take the form of the “Success Counselor,” having already completed the “What do you want” and “what happened” steps, and now moving into the “how did that work” stage.

Now, straight to the point! 




When you acknowledge the situation, the defensive reaction is subverted. 
“Oh, they really do understand how hard this is, and how mistakes can certainly be made, and no one is perfect.”




People desperately want to be understood. 
“He really does understand how I feel, and that my feelings are justified.”




People are ALWAYS making the best choices they are currently capable of. 
“She knows that I want to do a good job and that my intentions are honorable.”




What is their goal?  What are they trying to accomplish?            
“I’m glad he knows that I am working on a solution.”




Get their side of the story.






When people are not being successful, and they see that, they want help.  They want to succeed. 
“I wish I was powerful enough to solve this problem well.”

“John, I know it is really hot today, and that you didn’t get enough sleep last night.  That camper has been getting on people’s nerves for a couple days now, and I’m not surprised that he got to you too.  We should have spent more time in training going over this kind of behavior challenge, and I haven’t been around enough to help you out.  I also know that your co-counselor is new, and that makes it tough to deal with this kind of thing.”

“It’s really frustrating to have to deal with that kind of disrespect from a child.  When they do it for a long time and occasionally strike close to home, it can really make you angry.”

“I know you are a good counselor and you want to do a good job.  You care about the kids.  You’re spending a lot of time on this child, and I know you want to be fair to all the kids in the cabin.”

“You want him to be a better person.  You are trying to make him understand how he is hurting himself and others.  You want him and the other kids in the cabin to have a great time.  I can see you are working on this.”

Now that you’ve shared with me what happened from your perspective, I’d be really interested to hear how you think things went from your perspective as well.  {if you get any kind of defensive or non-open response, then you need to go back to the NVC model and have the person get all their feelings and needs out and understood.}