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No one welcomes the prospect of a difficult conversation, whether it’s with a professor, a parent, a spouse, a teammate, or anyone else. Remind students that while they may not be able to change the information that needs to be shared, they can take steps to make the conversation itself less upsetting—and to keep emotions from spiraling out of control. Encourage students to make these conversations as trauma-free as possible with these tactics:

  • Don’t put it off. Although it’s natural to want to avoid an unpleasant confrontation, waiting usually makes things worse because you have to live with the anxiety for that much longer.
  • Don’t go in angry. While you don’t want to put off a difficult conversation, don’t jump into it if you’re still angry about something that happened, even if your anger is justified. Anger can cloud your perception and spur you to make bad decisions or say things you’ll regret. Find a way to cool off first.
  • Don’t make excuses. If you made a mistake or failed to meet a commitment, own up to it. You’ll feel better about yourself and earn respect from the other person.
  • See things from the other side. Regardless of who is at fault—if anyone—take a moment to consider what the other person is going through.
  • Ask for help if you need it. Admitting you need help can be a difficult step. However, if you’re in trouble, the bravest course is often to ask for help.
  • Be the boss of your own emotions. Be conscious of your emotions and actively control them; don’t let them control you. This is not easy, but it can be done.
  • Be kind. Unless you’re being taken advantage of, you’ll never regret being kind to someone, regardless of the circumstances.

Self-Coaching Ideas for Your Students

  1. Do you ever find your emotions getting out of control when you’re having a difficult conversation? What steps could you take to keep them under control?
  2. Is there a difficult conversation that you’re putting off right now? If so, imagine the relief you’ll feel once you get it over with. Even if it’s likely to be a painful experience, it could be the start of repairing a damaged relationship or getting your life back on track.


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