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How to handle difficult conversations? Is there a magic formula?

Communicating bad news can be almost as stressful for the sender to deliver as it is for the receiver to hear, thus conveying empathy and sensitivity are essential when it comes to dealing with them. One problem with messaging is that people often misinterpret texts, since deciphering tone, sarcasm and other emotions can be difficult through the phone. Moreover, we have no sense of non-verbal actions (body language), which allows us to get a sense of other’s feelings. No amount of emojis, words in all-caps or exclamation points can guarantee that the other person will understand what emotions you are trying to convey.

In this regard, in-person conversations allow us to resolve conflict more effectively, and are thus much more recommended when we have to deliver bad news. Being comfortable addressing issues with others will help you become more confident and a better communicator, which can be a good asset in the future. Unfortunately, not all the difficult conversations happen “face-to-face” and we are not always able to address them as we would like to.

For this reason, it is important to build resources that help us communicate in a more assertive way. Problem-solving training changes communication skills and aids in creating interpersonal relationship satisfaction.


  1. Conflict is inevitable and that both positive and negative consequences may occur depending on how the conflict is managed.

  2. The results are likely to be better with active engagement rather than avoidance.

  3. People must be motivated to address conflict.

  4. Behavioral, cognitive, and emotional skills can be acquired.

  5. Emotional skills require self-awareness.

  6. The environment must be neutral and feel safe.


  1. Overton, A. R., & Lowry, A. C. (2013). Conflict management: difficult conversations with difficult people. Clinics in colon and rectal surgery, 26(4), 259.

  2. Adapted from Spikes. Baile et al. The Oncologist 8/2000. @hevttospica @eolpros @2015

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