5 tips for navigating difficult conversations

Do you sometimes feel like you have a hard time getting your point across? Or have difficulty engaging in conversations related to bad news or delicate subjects? You’re not alone.

This can feel frustrating because it’s important to be able to have open, honest and productive conversations with others.

WellTuned spoke with Rhonda Roper, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee behavioral health clinical director, for guidance on these conversations.

“Keep in mind that your relationship and connection with the person you are speaking with will impact the nature of the conversation, and can drive the response,” says Roper.

Consider these 5 tips as you navigate sensitive topics.

1. Plan ahead.

Start with the end in mind,” Roper says. “What are your goals for the conversation?”

Think about how you will begin the conversation, express your concerns and respond to potential reactions. Do you hope to inspire someone to think differently, simply but respectfully state your case or are there specific action steps to agree on in order to move forward together?

2. Choose the right time.

“It’s important that no one feels blindsided,” says Roper.

Let the other person know when you would like to speak with them, and the focus of the conversation. Limit distractions, such as by setting your phone on silent or leaving it behind altogether, and plan enough time for open dialogue.

3. Prepare for a range of reactions.

Whether positive or negative, you are only responsible for your own emotions and reactions, and the way you treat others.

Remind yourself of your personality traits. Will they enhance or inhibit the conversation? Are you naturally confrontational or conflict avoidant? These will all play a role in how receptive the other person is to the conversation.

4. Approach the topic directly.

Use “I” statements instead of sentences that begin with “you.” Avoid all-or-nothing words like “always” and “never.”

“Listen to the speaker, really listen, not just to prepare your next response,” says Roper.

Paraphrase their words as you begin your response to make sure that you understand what they communicated. This offers the speaker a chance to offer feedback about the accuracy of your perceptions.

5. Commit to treating all others with respect.

Allow for expression of differing points of view. And, when possible and appropriate, leave the door open to future conversations.

“This will communicate to all participants that the relationships are worth preserving and improving,” Roper says.

However, there are times when it can be unhealthy to continue a dialogue. Those include abusive language or behavior, an unwillingness to respect the boundaries set by others, or if the conversation becomes too heated to continue.

For more resources to navigate difficult conversations, visit:

Katie Taylor Barnes

Katie joined the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee corporate communications team in 2020. As a Chattanooga transplant, she has experience in brand journalism, social media management and employee communications. When she’s not at BlueCross, Katie’s running the Chattanooga Riverwalk, enjoying a coffee at her favorite local shop or traveling to visit friends and family.

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