‘His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy…’

Is this Eminem, or are you about to have a tough conversation?

Delivering bad news or constructive criticism. Discussing a delicate subject. Addressing a mistake or something that needs to change. All these situations can fill you with angst and invoke a physical response.

Any of these symptoms sound familiar?

  • elevated breathing rate
  • increased heart rate
  • racing mind
  • sweaty palms
  • empty stomach
  • dry mouth

These are reactions to acute stress.

You need a strategy long before you enter the room

To be effective in a tough conversation the key is to plan, prepare and practice. Your first goal should be to reduce your stress.

Try these techniques:

  • control your breathing (inhale to a count of four, exhale to a count of six)
  • be in the moment (forget the past and don’t predict the future)
  • positive self-talk (know you’re capable)
  • use a mantra (keep it simple and positive)
  • visualise (see yourself succeeding)
  • body language (it can help with self-confidence)

These techniques reduce apprehension and make the tough talk more productive and successful.


Are you listening? Really listening?

Listening goes beyond simply hearing what people say. Listening means you’ve become conscious of their tone, body language and even if they’re withholding something they want to say.

Pay attention beyond the words. Their intrinsic message can then be heard.

Empathetic listening can evoke honest answers, instill validation, build respect and trust, and result in better outcomes.

Next time you need a tough conversation, practice these techniques and see the difference they make. It’s likely you’ll notice a positive change in the room and the communication will flow freely.

Remember, conflict is inevitable. But with the right knowledge and the right plan, you have the ability to handle any situation with composure and compassion.

When you learn the art of tough conversations, relationships are built, not broken.

David Buttifant is a high-performance coach, founder and facilitator of Resilience Builders.

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