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How to have difficult conversations

Have you been putting off talking to your partner about something that’s frustrating you? The technique we explore in this blog can help you feel confident to address the elephant in the room and work towards a positive outcome for your partnership.

Working in health justice partnership – just like any partnership – isn’t always a smooth ride. There will likely come a time when you’re feeling frustrated with your partner – maybe you feel there is a lack of buy-in, for example. Whenever we hear grievances that sound like this, our advice often involves “talk to your partner and seek to understand their perspective before making your mind up”. Which is easier said than done.

Approaching difficult conversations can be daunting, it can feel a lot easier to avoid them all together. And yet, that’s not going to resolve your frustration and often exacerbates the situation by leading to built up resentment.

One skill that can help to facilitate these conversations and make them less daunting is framing – five steps that are simple to learn (but can take some practice to get comfortable with). As outlined in this piece from the Harvard Business Review, framing involves being clear about what is happening (or not happening) from your viewpoint, before getting curious about the situation by creating some hypotheses about why the situation might be happening from different perspectives. When you’re ready to approach the conversation, this framing technique helps you to describe what you’ve noticed in an open way that invites opportunities for learning and growth. Finally, framing asks for reflection and input from others to help to create shared meaning about the situation.

While the last step is one of five, it’s perhaps the most important. By approaching these conversations in partnership with an open mind, we can better aim tolisten with the same passion as we feel about being heard. Listening is critical in creating shared meaning, which in turn is essential when working together toward your partnership goals.

So rather than approaching hard conversations with a wish for an immediate solution – your immediate solution – aim to listen, reality test your assumptions and story, and create a fresh understanding of what might be driving what’s hard.

Additional resources

Sometimes, starting a conversation is the hardest part. If you’d like some pointers, Brene Brown has these helpful tips.:

In this insightful talk, journalist Celeste Headlee  shares 10 useful rules for having better conversations:

Related content

A guide to developing and implementing a health justice partnership that responds to local conditions and needs.