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How to Have a Caring Conversation with Someone Difficult

10/13/2014 05:10 EDT | Updated 12/13/2014 05:59 EST
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"My boss is a bully."

"My co-worker constantly berates me for making even the smallest error, or asking what she deems a 'stupid' question."

"My colleague's voice tone is condescending and insulting toward me when we are in meetings."

Do you work with someone whose behavior is challenging your energy and enthusiasm for work? Maybe it's a family member, who you find yourself avoiding because he or she is a real "downer" at family gatherings.

Having a caring conversation with someone who is making you miserable can be challenging. Like most conversations that are worth having, this one requires a little bit of planning and foresight. Also, like most conversations that are worth having, this is one that you will surely be glad you have had, after it is done.

Remember these simple tips as you prepare for your conversation:

Purpose prevails.

Think about your purpose in having this conversation with this person. Why is it important? What impact is the challenging behaviour having on your relationship? What's in it for you and for the other person, to change the course of your communication in the future?

What's recent is remembered.

When you are preparing for the conversation, think about and address only the most recent example of challenging behavior. For example, you might say "Yesterday you yelled at me and called me 'irresponsible' when I made an error in the order." That is more effective than saying "You always yell at me." or "You are a bully". or "Three weeks ago you yelled at me." When your language is about a specific occasion that is fresh in the other person's mind, you can more easily focus your conversation on that one example.

Anticipation beats aggravation.

Before you meet with the other person, think about how you imagine he or she will react to what you wish to discuss. What might he say? How might she behave? If you are able to anticipate his or her reaction, you can prepare yourself for it. Sometimes this helps you in thinking about how you will open your conversation. For example, you might start with "Sally, I know that you are struggling with some tough things in your life right now." or "George, we have not spent a lot of quality time together at these family gatherings because there is often so much going on."

Empathy enlightens.

Whatever happens during the conversation, choose to empathize, to look at the situation from the other person's perspective. When you empathize, you naturally ask questions to help you understand (their position), rather than defend (your position). "Joe, it seems to be frustrating for you to have to keep training new staff, only to have them leave after only a few months."

Openness leads to opportunity.

Choose, as you prepare for the conversation, to be open. Although you prepare ahead of time for what you want to say, you are also open to hearing new information that can help you to determine -- together -- how you can get along moving forward. Sitting in silence, breathing deeply, and repeating the words "I am open" before you meet with this person, can help you be in a positive place when you enter the meeting.

Hopeful helps.

End with a statement about how you are confident and hopeful about the future of your relationship with this person. In fact, start with this as your opening also!

Opening: "Jane, I value you as my leader, and I'd like to have a conversation about something that is getting in the way of our working relationship. I know that after we have this conversation, my performance will be enhanced and so will our department's results."

Closing: "I sincerely appreciate your time today, Jane, and I am confident that we will be able to continue to develop the kind of working relationship that will help us both to achieve our goals."

Positive Propels!

The next time you see something positive from that person, point it out! Even if the positive occasion is a rare one, take time to show your appreciation. The more you focus on 'what's good', the more of that you will get!

Have you got any tips to share -- something that has worked for you?

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