3 Ways to REF Crucial Conversations

We have all been there.  Whether it occurs in our professional or personal relationships there has been a time that we had to have a difficult conversation.  That time when we usually have to deliver some type of less than favorable news. Sometimes, we are even on the receiving end.  These experiences are usually emotionally charged, which is why it is so important to manage the situation in an effort to attain the desired goal of clarity, the ability to move forward, and a salvaged relationship.

Next time you find yourself either preparing (best case) or in the middle (worst case) of a heated, difficult discussion try to remember you need a REF to manage the discussion. It is always smart to be ready, but no harm in verbally taking a step back so that in both cases you can Reflect, Empathize, and Frame.reflect 2REFLECT

It is important to approach any of these types of conversations by reflecting on the essential message you are trying to get across.  Difficult conversations are just that.  Therefore, unless they are boxed in with clear parameters there is the tendency that the main message will either get lost, dampened, or avoided all together in the shifting emotions and elevated tension that is experienced.  Remember, people only hear a portion of what is actually said and less if they are not ready due to some other mental or emotional strain.  So an important first step is to reflect on what you want the main takeaway of the meeting to be for the discussion to be considered authentic and meaningful.

For example: Instead of having someone leave a discussion thinking that you do not like the way they act while carrying out their duties; think of how you can get them to leave understanding that they need to change how they act because they can do better and their currently behavior is affecting their performance.empathy1EMPATHIZE

Before you begin to frame how you will approach one of these conversations, repeat this phrase: I am not them, but more importantly they are not me.  Personally, I work to not always see things through my lens of personal expectations. It is essential to try and look at things through the lens that the individual you are meeting with is most likely gong to bring to the conversation.  Whether it is a parent, significant other, colleague, or boss they will very rarely have the same perspective.  The key to this is stepping outside of yourself and into the other person’s viewpoint; then asking how you would view or hear the message you were delivering. Everyone we speak to has their own set of circumstances they are dealing with.  This is not a reason to feel sorry for them, but to understand their situation. Failing to do so will hinder you from properly framing the message and having a meaningful interaction.




Many messages are lost because they were presented or framed in a way that was received poorly.  There are many different ways to deliver a message. It is necessary that it be done in a manner that allows the person to accept it.  A present (good or bad) is always nicer when it is wrapped.

For example: Instead of saying to the teacher you just observed; “Your lessons aren’t engaging” try “Your lesson had good content. How it can be more engaging?”

Another example: Instead of saying; “Your negative attitude and complaining is becoming more and more of a problem and has to change” try “How do you think you could exert more of a positive presence in the building?”

One more example: Instead of telling a parent; “Most of your child’s problem is because you aren’t helping us by enforcing consequences at home” try “Your student, like most, responds best to consistency. How can we make sure we are on the same page?

These examples are not the beginning and end to a conversation.  They just show various ways to re-frame what you are saying. It all comes down to reflecting on the key points you want to get across, empathizing with the person, and framing the meeting in such a way that you are able to have an open, honest, and productive dialogue.

Even in difficult conversations, people will listen if they feel they are not being attacked, being listened to, and have control of the outcome. Even when none of those are true. The best part is that the more you practice these three steps; the more you actually do listen, not attack, and give them agency in the outcome.

Conversation is the most powerful, but often most misused communication tool we have as individuals. What other strategies do you use to make the most of difficult conversations?  Be sure to let me know so that we can improve more conversations!

Want a quick video summary of this post?  Check it out right here…

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