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The Key to Navigating Difficult Conversations

What do people want more than anything when it comes to the conversations and interactions they’re engaged in, especially those that are difficult or have the potential to become tense and lead to conflict?

They want to be heard.

What happens when you’re not heard?

You get frustrated. Angry. You probably try to make your point more forcefully by getting louder and more insistent. At least I do.

The saints among us aside … we all do. Look at what little kids do when they can’t communicate what they want or need. They scream and wail until somebody figures out what they’re fussing about and makes it all better.

Grownups aren’t that much different. Maybe in degree and style, but not in basic approach.

If you want to engage people constructively, whether it’s in business or your everyday life, you have to let them know you hear what they’re saying.

We typically get so busy loading up the next thing we want to say and countering with, “but … but … but”, that we never take the time to acknowledge the other person’s point of view.

And that creates a barrier … a brick wall. If you fail to acknowledge where they’re coming from, you’re unlikely to get anywhere with what you’re saying, no matter how insistent or loud you get. In fact, the more you talk, the more you strain to get through, the more likely they are to harden their stance.

So, what’s the secret to taking down the barriers and having a real give and take?

Focusing on the giving part. Give them the gift of listening and really hearing.

Here’s a simple, but incredibly powerful, verbal tool you can use to let people know you hear what they’re saying. It works like magic … instantly softening the tone of the discussion and opening people up to hear what you have to say

It’ll both prevent oppositional energy from forming in a potentially difficult conversation and de-fuse it if things start to get edgy.

We call it the buffering statement. Learn to use it well and you’ll become the consummate diplomat, the peacemaker, the person everybody likes … the kind of person who smooths out problems and gets all different kinds of people to work together harmoniously as a team.

And that’s a rare and highly valued skill.

The exact words you use don’t matter as much as the generosity of spirit behind them.

Here are a few examples to get you started:

I get where you’re comin’ from. You bring up an important point …

I understand what you’re saying … (then restate what you just heard) …

I understand how you feel … (+ a brief restate) …

I appreciate your concern. If I were you, I’d be concerned about that too …

Easy enough. But there’s an important twist.

You can’t follow a buffering statement with the word “but.” It cancels out / invalidates everything you just said.

I appreciate your concern, but I think there are some important factors we need to consider.

Instead, use “and” before you say what you have to say.

Listen to the difference.

I appreciate your concern, and I think there are some important factors we need to consider.

The tone is very different. Your concern and my concern can co-exist.

You’re like the willow tree, not stiff and rigid. You bend in the wind without compromising your integrity.

This takes the fight out of people. They don’t get triggered. There’s no impulse to push back against someone who isn’t resisting.

Some might argue this approach amounts to caving in and spinelessly acquiescing vs. standing your ground.

To hell with them. Oh wait … “That’s an important objection and needs to be considered …”

You’re just saying, “I hear you.” And that’s all most people want … just to be heard.

Try using buffering statements EVERY TIME you’re in any kind conversation with people … until it becomes a reflex. I promise they work like magic … even with teenagers. They’ll melt the ice like a blowtorch.

And please, let me know how it goes.

Best Wishes,




Suzie Price doubled her income last year and is on track to do it again this year. Holly DeVito was asked to speak seven times in six months. And Michael Parise got five new clients from his very first speech! This could be you!

Meet Denise: Denise Hedges is a Business Development Coach and Speaker Coach for small business owners who want to be more comfortable, confident, and successful with their sales and marketing efforts. She specializes in helping them use speaking as a way to dramatically improve their results!