Strategies for Tough Conversations

Strategies for Tough Conversations

Strategies for Tough Conversations

Mitch Matthews offers a proven 4-step process for navigating tough conversations.  After listening, you’ll be able to prepare for the interaction, engage with confidence, clarify the problem and the solution as well as deliver results.   

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It happens to all of us.

Whether it’s navigating a stressful situation with a co-worker, dealing with a challenging client, clarifying things with a roommate or addressing hurt feelings with a family member…  difficult conversations happen to all of us.

So… are you ready?

In this DREAM THINK DO episode, I give you a four-step process.  (click here)

It will help you to navigate tough conversations… and do it with more confidence and peace of mind too!

(Plus, I offer an embarrassing story that reinforces I need these strategies too!) 

I’ve trained thousands of people on these concepts.  

They’ve told me this stuff works in the real world.

Listen in and learn the strategies you need so you’re ready for “that” conversation!

Then… leave a comment on which concept stands out to you.  What are you going to try differently the next time you navigate a tough conversation?  I’d love to hear from YOU!

Keep bringing your awesome,



Here’s the show notes from this week:

Having a difficult conversation at work or with family is tough. Period. Yet, Mitch Matthews gives out a valuable tool to help: a simple 4 step process that can empower you to handle these difficult conversations with more confidence and skill. He’s trained hundreds of leaders to use this process. At the same time, Mitch candidly reveals that he needs to learn this process on a daily basis, just like the rest of us.  

Time-Stamped Show Notes

[00:00] Deep dive day: Strategies for handling difficult conversations.

[04:02] Use this cheat sheet: Difficult Convos: Engaging, Clarifying, and Delivering.

[05:21] What about navigating difficult conversations?

[07:51] I’ve trained hundreds if not thousands of leaders to use this 4 step process.  

[09:40] The 4 step process for navigating difficult conversations.

[10:22] Keeping combat mentality the enemy.

[15:23] How do I stay out of fight or flight mode?

[17:50] Step 1: Preparing to engage.

[22:45] Steps 2 – 4: How Mitch’s business partner David used the 4 step process to successfully navigate a tense conversation.

[34:08] Pick one step at a time to work on.

[36:11] These strategies can help in any difficult conversation you’re having.

[38:10] Share this episode with someone who might need it and go to itunes and leave a review.

Deep Dive with Mitch Matthews: Strategies for Navigating Difficult Conversations

Deep dive day: Strategies for handling difficult conversations

This is a big topic that Mitch gets questions for all the time. He also invites podcast listeners to send him more ideas: “If you have a subject you’d like to hear about then hit me up on Twitter at @mitchmatthews or shoot me an email direct: I love hearing from you.”

This is an important topic to discuss because “[n]avigating our work, navigating family…there’s just times where we have to step into difficult conversations. And if we have some tools that equip us to do that, that give us more confidence to do that, then we can handle that a whole lot better.”

Mitch covers this subject again because after the recent podcast interview with Matt Bodnar on negotiation strategies, it brought up the need to learn about specific strategies to help navigate difficult conversations.

What about navigating difficult conversations?
Mitch acknowledges that sometimes pursuing bigger dreams, thinking better or doing more can make other people uncomfortable: “Maybe it stretches you, or changes things with your schedule or your priorities and you have to navigate some difficult conversations.”

Growth involves risk at times, and even when it’s calculated risk, because “it’s a risk all the same,” explains Matthews, difficult conversations need to happen with those who are close to you. Risk can be exciting and at the same time uncomfortable or even a bit stressful. Even when you’re not the type to throw caution to the wind, and you go after growth with a plan, things can still be tough.

Sometimes these tough conversations can happen at work, with a co-worker, employee or team member who’s a jackweed once in awhile. A fellow employee could just be having a bad day, or they could just be kind of a jackweed.      

I’ve trained hundreds if not thousands of leaders to use this 4 step process
This is a “4 step process that I’ve trained hundreds if not thousands of leaders to use,” says Matthews. He promises that this is a practical strategy for the real world. Strategies bother him that “sound like rainbows that could work in a perfect world, but [aren’t] really applicable in day-to-day life.”   


The 4 step process for navigating difficult conversations

The 4 step process:

  1. Preparing to engage
  2. Engaging
  3. Clarifying
  4. Delivering.

“All of the steps are important,” states Matthews, “but preparing to engage may be the most important step, because there’s really science in how you prepare.”

Keeping combat mentality the enemy
The first thing that’s key for navigating difficult conversations, insists Matthews, is to remember that the person is not the enemy. We need to avoid falling into what Holly Weeks calls “combat mentality.”

“When difficult conversations turn toxic, it’s often because we’ve made a key mistake: we’ve fallen into a combat mentality. This allows the conversation to become a zero-sum game, with a winner and a loser. But the reality is, when we let conversations take on this tenor – especially at the office – everyone looks bad, and everyone loses. The real enemy is not your conversational counterpart, but the combat mentality itself. And you can defeat it, with strategy and skill,” Matthews quotes from Holly Weeks, a writer for the Harvard Business Review and author of Failure to Communicate: How Conversations Go Wrong and What You Can Do to Right Them.

Combat mentality stirs up your fight or flight response, which is great for survival, but causes problems for difficult conversations. This state literally changes our brain, or more accurately our ocular nerve, so that our field of vision narrows. In addition, that same part of our brain also narrows the number of creative options we see. There are “multiple reasons to stay out of combat mentality,” confirms Matthews, “one of which [is] we become less creative, [so] we’ll see less options.”


How do I stay out of fight or flight mode?
Most of all, make sure that you see that person as a human being. Matthews discusses this important point that we can learn from military training: “I’ve talked with a number of people who are trained to truly be soldiers on that front line, whether it’s infantry, special forces…[and] one of the things that many soldiers have to learn or start to actually take on is their ability to make the enemy not human.” This goes in opposition to our natural propensity as human beings to save, protect and honour life, but dehumanizing the “enemy” makes it easier to take someone else’s life.

Understanding this principle can help us to also understand the opposite of that. Dehumanizing the other person in a difficult conversation can often happen subconsciously. It then becomes “easier to move into that combat mode…almost to take a life – not literally – but more metaphorically, to win at all costs,” admits Matthews.         


Step 1: Preparing to engage
In preparing for difficult conversations, Matthews mentions a great book called Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson and a few other authors. Patterson spends a lot of time talking about this first step.

The first part of this step is to find mutual purpose. Ask yourself some of these questions, says Matthews: “What are some things that both of you want? What are some goals that you share?” Matthews draws on an example in Patterson’s book of a great labour negotiator who would help organizations navigate a strike. After the negotiation, when everyone was returning to work, the labour negotiator would help the two sides to see how they shared some common goals for the organization, and it was powerful.

Next, is to find mutual respect, even if it’s just in your own mind. Acknowledging that this is likely the more difficult of the two parts, Matthews still insists that it’s important: “If you can do this, you’ll enter into the conversation with a lot more…basically to be able to stay in the moment and stay out of that combat mentality.”  


Steps 2 – 4: How Matthews’ business partner David used the 4 step process to successfully navigate a tense conversation.

Matthews tells the story about how one night he and his business partner David received an email from a client that something is broken with the launch only a couple days out. Matthews admits his response to David wasn’t his finest moment.

In the morning, David initiated the difficult conversation and proceeded to walk out steps 2 to 4 of this process. First, David engaged Matthews: “I want to let you know that we’re both committed to just a high level of delivery on this…I’ve always been impressed about that with you.” Then David asked for Mitch’s thoughts on what happened, and this helped to de-escalate the situation.

The next step is to clarify. “[David] listened so much,” Matthews says, “that he was able to reflect back some of the things I was saying.” As a result, Matthews really felt heard. It’s also important to validate during this step and say something like, “I understand why you might believe this,” however, keep in mind that validation isn’t necessarily agreeing with the person. After this, David expressed his thoughts and because Matthews felt heard, it made a big difference in the conversation.

Finally, David and Matthews moved to the delivery step. Both shared some solutions, and they made a commitment to a deliverable. The end result was that they were able to turn it around ahead of schedule, which was powerful.  

Pick one step at a time to work on
when using the 4 step process, Matthews advises listeners, don’t strive for perfection. Don’t even focus on using all of the steps the next time you face a difficult conversation. Instead, when starting out, “[p]ick one of those things and try to do it a little more effective,” he encourages.   

These strategies can help in any difficult conversation you’re having.
This 4 step process will hopefully help you to navigate difficult conversations, regardless of the reason why you need to have these tough conversations.

“My hope is that this 4 step process will help you to dream bigger, think better, and do more,” says Matthews, “Even when you have to deal with a difficult conversation from time to time.”  

Share or review this episode on iTunes
“If you liked this episode, or any or our other episodes…share this episode with someone who you know needs it. Email it or share it on social media.

The second thing you can do, is to leave a review on itunes, or on whatever platform you’re listening to this podcast. The reviews help other people to find us, help us move up in ranking and most importantly, to reach more people.

“This podcast is part of a bigger plan,” says Matthews. “We want to help launch a million dreams. I want to help launch a million dreams in my lifetime…and you are a part of that as well.”

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