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The three biggest mistakes people make when handling tough conversations.


Tough conversations are …… well …… just that, tough. Just thinking about them can make your head spin. Getting them started, and started on the right track, isn’t always easy. You need to know what you’re doing because otherwise they mightn’t turn out the way you want.

And of course, complicating this is coping with our feelings and emotions – and those of the other person. If only we didn’t have to have them. But we do.

Anyway, it all adds up to the fact there are plenty of opportunities to make mistakes. And if we make mistakes, we can make the conversation even tougher. Worse still, we can actually botch it entirely.

Of course, if we don’t care about the outcome or how people feel, or just want to put the boot in, it doesn’t matter too much. We can just have the conversation and move on. But if we do care, and let’s be honest here, most of the time we do, we want to avoid making mistakes as much as possible.

So, what are the mistakes? Well, there are plenty of them of course. But here are the three biggest ones:

  1. Labelling and name-calling;
  2. Psychoanalysing and speculating; and
  3. Assigning & associating poorly.

Here’s a brief overview of mistake 1. A brief overview of mistakes 2 and 3 will be published separately.

Mistake 1: Labelling and name-calling.

Labelling and name-calling are saying things like:

  • “You’re being aggressive.”
  • “That’s a ridiculous thing to say.”
  • “It’s obvious to anyone who thinks about it.”
  • “Why do you have to be so rude?”
  • “You need some manners.”
  • “You’ll need to listen this time.”
  • “You’re too sweet.”
  • “You’re being weak.”
  • “You’re not facing up to the facts.”

Now let’s be clear. Maybe the person …

…was “being aggressive”, did say a “ridiculous thing” or whatever. But it doesn’t matter. It’s irrelevant.

People on the receiving end of …

… these sorts of comments, and other people as well, can see them as rude and bad mannered. Not only can they see them as criticisms and put-downs, they can see them as straight-out personal attacks.

It means they can react to them. They can focus on them and divert the conversation from where you want it to go. They can even hijack the conversation completely. And an added problem is they can use what you’ve said to fight back and complain about you.

So labelling and name-calling are not only …

… unnecessary, they can be considered as rude. The result is they can people’s backs up and allow them to side-track the conversation.

Well, there’s nothing like a bit of homework so here it is.

  1. Don’t use labelling or name-calling.
  2. Don’t use any terms that look like, or could be interpreted as, labelling or name-calling
  3. Have a look around and see just how often people use labelling or name-calling. And think what they could have said instead.

Anyway, that’s enough for this blog. I’ll post the next blogs in this series of ‘The three biggest mistakes people make when handling tough conversations’ soon.

All the very best,


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