Do you love flexing your conversation muscle? Or do you run a mile when a big or difficult conversation presents itself? Whether you’re meeting with someone new, speaking with colleagues or connecting with your partner, there’s more to conversation than just a verbal exchange. 

The conversations we have, and the way in which we have them, hugely impact our work, and the quality of our relationships. But sometimes it can be tempting to avoid difficult conversations, or go into a conversation only really half listening. So, how can we have productive conversations and get the best outcomes for everyone involved – including ourselves? 

Being present, preparing correctly and removing preconceived ideas are all ways we can improve our conversations, but often we’re too distracted or worried to really make the conversations we have a truly meaningful exchange. 

Here are some key tips on how to make the most of your conversations. 

The power of perspective

Understanding someone else’s perspective and truly considering things from their point of view has huge power. It leads the path to connection, communication and conflict resolution. As children we’re encouraged to ‘put ourselves in someone else’s shoes’, but as adults we often forget to consider other people’s perspectives. The result? We take part in conversations in a way which is only half there. 

By understanding someone else, a whole other world opens up. It becomes difficult to blame and shame people when you understand that they, just like you, just want to be content in their own way. 

Tip: next time you’re having a conversation, try to truly be open and present to the other person and their point of view. Practice mindfulness rather than mindlessness. 

Add curiosity to your toolbox 

Curiosity is a powerful thing for our conversations. Being curious and open means asking questions rather than just making statements. Think about why your clients, customers or colleagues will be impacted by your decisions, and think about what it means for them, not just how it benefits you. 

Ask, rather than assume to improve your understanding. Try questions such as:

  • Can you tell me more about that? 
  • And what else? 
  • It sounds like you’re saying… Is this correct?
  • Can you help me understand better? 

Try this: if you struggle to listen in a truly present way, try a physical cue to stop yourself from interrupting other people or making assumptions. For example sit on your hands, cross your legs or hold your pen. This can be a cue to you to respond with a question, rather than a statement. 

Listen more deeply 

Listening deeply to someone with complete focus helps you to understand more about them – you start to see the story behind the words, the emotions conveyed by their body language, and what is at the heart of what they’re saying. 

You become ‘other people centric’ by listening to understand, rather than just listening to solve. How often have you been frustrated by a friend or partner when they’ve responded to your confession of a problem with an irrelevant solution? So often in our conversations we’re focused on solving someone’s problems, rather than just giving them a safe space to speak. 

If you are brutally honest with yourself, how well do you really listen to the important people in your life? And how well do you feel listened to? 

Dealing with discomfort

Worrying about an upcoming conversation? We’ve all been there. 

Whether it’s giving negative feedback on someone else’s work, negotiating a pay rise, or asking a housemate to do their share of the cleaning, uncomfortable conversations are just part of being human. 

Living a life on your own terms takes courage, which means sometimes you need to get out of your comfort zone when you’re having conversations. Some of us struggle to say no or worry about whether or not people will like us. Or waste hours thinking about what the outcomes might be, but if we don’t have those difficult conversations, then we aren’t paving the way for real change. 

The power of no 

Sometimes we feel obligated to say yes – we want to be helpful, but it means we over-commit to tasks which drain our energy. Saying yes to help someone else is all well and good, but not if it’s taking away time from you to do the things that bring you joy and meaning.

Of course saying no can be awkward in the moment, but the more you do it the easier it gets. Say goodbye to resentment and hello to productive, meaningful opportunities. 

Focus on what you’ll gain, rather than what you’ll lose. 

Preparing for a tough conversation

If you’re more accustomed to being ‘nice and polite’ than having tough conversations, here are some ways to tackle them.

  1. Prepare: Preparation and thought ahead of the conversation mean you’ve got the information you need to answer potential questions and challenges. 
  2. Clear the decks: Try to start the conversation with a clear and open mind, rather than holding onto preconceived ideas and expectations. 
  3. Perspective: Remember why you’re there, and that feelings of discomfort are temporary. The experience is a path to growth. 

Timing: The longer you put off having the conversation, the more it takes on a life of its own as the expectation builds. Jump in and have the conversation now, rather than leaving it for months when it’s become irrelevant to the other party. 

Do you fear feedback? 

Receiving feedback can be uncomfortable and damage our self-confidence, but try taking yourself out of the process so you can accept feedback as information rather than a personal attack. By using feedback as a catalyst for change, it helps you to grow as a leader, and to continually improve your approach. Taking pride in your success, but also learning from your mistakes, are both hugely valuable. 

Ask for what you want and need

If you ask for what you need and want with clarity and purpose, then it provides opportunities for you to work collaboratively with others on a shared purpose. Asking for help and support does not mean you’re needy or a failure. In fact, when you ask someone to help you, quite often they feel needed, wanted and important as a result. So you both win. 

It’s important to ask for what you want, rather than assuming other people know or care about what is important to you. Be really clear about what you’re asking for. 

Create agreements rather than expectations 

When we set expectations which aren’t met, the result is blame and feelings of frustration and disappointment. But when we set agreements, we’re creating mutually agreeable arrangements, where both parties determine what is required and when it will be executive. The focus is on the how, what and when, and clearly outlining what the results need to be and what ‘done’ looks like. 

By articulating exactly what ‘done’ looks like to your teammates, partner or family members, you’re providing clarity to a conversation and giving people clear tasks to focus on. Agreements eliminate frustration and anger, as they give you more clarity and focus on how to move things forward. 

At the end of the day, we’re all humans and no two conversations will be the same. But when you go into each conversation with an open mind, open ears, and clarity around what is being agreed, you’re much more likely to walk away feeling fulfilled, or excited by the new opportunities which you’ve opened up.

About the Author

Danielle gives practical and informed tips on how to rewrite the gender code which creates pressures and limits our potential as women, and provides tools and strategies to create individual solutions for your unique context. If you would like to dig into this deeper you can purchase Danielle’s book, Breaking the Gender Code – which shows how women can use what they already have, to get what they actually want. 



When it comes to dealing with difficult people in life, we often try to prepare for the worst and make a plan of attack. The common attitude is, “Oh no! I have a problem; how do I fix it?”

Handling troublesome colleagues in the workplace can have its own set of unique challenges – projects, people and processes can become affected, not to mention your own sense of well-being and job enjoyment.

Is it possible to have a “battle plan” for dealing with colleagues and create a beneficial outcome for all without turning the workplace into a war-zone? Thankfully, yes. With some simple tactics and a shift in perspective, you can turn the tables on difficult colleagues and have more ease among your business relationships.

Don’t doubt yourself or take it personally

A colleague going out of their way to fight you can be very disconcerting. When I first experienced it myself, I couldn’t figure out why it was happening. This person would be nice one moment, and nasty the next. I received accusations of being competitive, copying work, not being as good as I thought I was, or at other times being totally dismissed or ignored. I was confused, and my first thought was wondering what I’d done wrong and what I needed to do to fix it and make it okay.

Then I learned this “mantra”: it’s not personal. I’d been seeing myself as the cause of their actions, but I began to notice that it wasn’t about me at all, so it made sense that my efforts to appease this person weren’t working either. Another hot tip is this: people tend to accuse you of what they are doing, not what you are doing.

So, when I listened to the accusations from my co-worker with impartial ears, it gave me information about what was going on for them: I began to see it was them choosing to compete and feeling less capable at their job. They were attempting to invalidate me so that they could feel better about themselves.

When I stopped taking it personally or trying to see how I was the cause of the problem, I was able to be more aware of the situation as it really was and choose not to get caught up emotionally in their choices and insecurities.

Replace reaction, anger and upset with gratitude

In the face of another’s unkindness, it is easy to react with upset or anger and make judgments: people shouldn’t act this way in a professional situation; it’s wrong; if only they would stop, change, see things from your point of view. Rather than conclude, expect or hope that things should be different – what if you could dispense with all of that and have gratitude instead?

This may seem difficult at first, but every judgment about right or wrong that we make, whether we direct it at ourselves or another person, eliminates our sense of choices and makes us powerless. You can argue, “Well, we should be respectful of one another,” and yes of course, wouldn’t that be nice if everyone did that? But a more pragmatic attitude would be to acknowledge, “Okay, this is what this person is choosing at the moment. What else is possible and what choices do I have I haven’t considered?”

Gratitude and judgement cannot exist next to each other, so gratitude puts you back in charge, with a clearer head and ability to act beyond just reaction. What can you be grateful for about this person and the situation? If you did not view them as a problem, what contribution could they be? What advantages could this situation present you? Every problem has a possibility attached to it, if you are willing to take out the judgment and look for the “silver lining”.

Acknowledge what is different about you

Difficult colleagues are often the ones that have not created or accomplished what you have or do not have the same sense of joy, fun, ease in life and work that you do. They may be attracted to conflict with you precisely because you are different. It’s not the nicest thing to acknowledge, but many people look to the strong, different and unique ones to try and get them down. This may not make sense to you, because you are probably someone who becomes inspired by another person achieving greatness. Not everyone functions this way, and the ones who don’t desire for you to be successful will attempt to bring you down and keep you small, so they can stay comfortable.

If you are finding this hard to see what’s so different about you, maybe it’s time to ask yourself: what is the strength I have that I haven’t acknowledged? What is different about me that I have not been willing to see?

When I started to look closer at what I was that was different to those around me, I realized that I was a lot happier than most people, I had more fun than most people, and I enjoyed my job more than most people. I could find the benefit in every situation, and this was very annoying for my colleague! Recognizing that I was not wrong, just different, was a blessing because I was able to turn things around and instead of being upset, I could just be myself and laugh when others tried to make my life miserable.

Be creative, not combative

When you acknowledge someone’s agenda for making your life difficult, without judging it or feeling the need to fight it, they become quite predictable and easy to read. Be grateful for all the information they give you and use it to your advantage. This may sound manipulative and in truth – it is! Manipulate simply means “to handle in a skillful manner.” Ask, “What does this person need and how do they need to be handled in order to be willing to contribute to with ease?” For example, if you know they love praise from their manager, you could say, “Can you help? The boss was so grateful for you helping him last month.” If you are willing to be creative and deliver what they need to hear, without a point of view, you will be surprised at what can change.

 

You don’t have to go to war with problematic coworkers to improve things. If you end the battle within you – eliminate judgment, have gratitude, ask questions, be creative and most of all, have fun being you – you will begin to realize that nothing and no one can make you unhappy or stop you from living your life the way you desire.


After completing her social work studies in Vienna, Doris Schachenhofer worked with children, homeless people, delinquent teenagers and prisoners transitioning back into the real world. Today she travels the world teaching and supporting people to be more of themselves. Her Being You classes are delivered in both live and online settings. Follow Doris here and on Instagram.


Storytelling is our most powerful form of communication ever invented. Whether it’s the latest Hollywood blockbuster, or a team or investor presentation, stories provoke our emotions. Stories help us feel something towards the person telling the story, i.e. the presenter (that’s you), which helps create connection, credibility and trust – an absolute essential if you want to stand out in today’s competitive business world.

Present a Hollywood blockbuster

Any presentation you put together should read like a good movie – it needs to have creative visuals, a compelling script, music, rhythm and heroic characters. All these elements come together and make your audience feel something, an emotion – excited, sad, angry, even apathetic.

Yet, in business, we’ve been taught that emotion (something that comes naturally to us women) is inappropriate. We’ve been told that problem-solving and decision making should rely on our logic and analysis.  This simply isn’t true.

It has long been noted that rational decision making – for the most part – is largely a myth. This is because up to 90% of the thousands of decisions we make each day fall beneath our level of awareness and are reinforced through our feelings and emotions. In fact, studies have shown that 74% of participants changed their decision after their emotion was changed.

A compelling blockbuster, therefore, needs to have a solid structure and stories that are easy to follow. It needs to have lots of signposts that lead your audience through on a journey with you. Show them the difference between life without your product or service compared to life with your help.

Amy Cuddy’s Ted talk, ‘Your body language may shape who you are’, is a perfect example of how you balance facts with that emotional pull. If you don’t know it, then have a look and pat attention to her screen visuals, gestures and the emotion she uses to draw you in.

Structure your story

Master communicator Nancy Duarte spent two years reading mythology, philosophy, and researching screenwriting and other story methodologies that have stood the test of time. In the course of her research, she uncovered a structure that some of the world’s greatest communicators had been using for years (including Aristotle).

It’s called ‘Persuasive Story Form’. This structure takes your audience back and forth between ‘what is’ (current state) and ‘what could be’ (the future world with your idea). You can use it for everything, from a movie script to your latest presentation.

Beginning: ACT I

  1. Have an honest conversation about the reality of the situation
  2. Give them a glimpse at the solution – with your idea.

Middle: ACT II

  1. Create tension and contrast for your audience
  2. Use a balance of emotional and analytical insights.

End: ACT III

  1. Begin with your call to action, what you want your audience to do
  2. Finish with an inspiring description of the world with your idea in place
  3. Ensure they leave committed to taking action.

To see this in practice then take a look at Nancy Duarte’s ‘The Secret Structure of Great Talks’ – you won’t regret it!

Make it memorable

If the goal of any presentation is to influence your audience (which it is), then you need to balance information with logic and emotion in a way that they remember your message and are driven to act upon it at the end. This is how what you are delivering can become meaningful and unforgettable.

Any time you present, it is your opportunity to influence the way those in the room think and act. So you’ve got to make them want to do something other than run or sleep. Should they feel angry and compelled to act now? Or excited about your new vision or idea?

To help, choose images, photos, and even colours, that match that mood. Then use relevant stories to connect one-to-one with them, so what you’re saying and showing becomes not only memorable, but meaningful as well.

I’ve seen video used really effectively in presentations, like a close up visual of an eye, something that is such high resolution you just want to reach out and touch it.

 

This is your chance to share not just your point of view, but also your passion for your subject, so let that shine. (Editor’s note: Learn how to change the world with your stories!)

Above all else, remember, the ability to bring emotion and heart to your subject is, for most of us, an innate skill. And when you balance this with logical arguments, then you create the opportunity to be remembered long after the lights go down. Just try it and see.


Emma Bannister is passionate about presenting big, bold and beautiful ideas. She is the founder and CEO of Presentation Studio, APAC’s largest presentation communication agency, and author of the book ‘Visual Thinking: How to transform the way you think, communicate and influence with presentations’.  Visit www.presentationstudio.com


The way people are communicating, both online and in person, is becoming more aggressive and more divisive. A lot of people believe that proving the rightness of their points of view will create the results they desire rather than doing what would be functional. As a result, they are listening to each other less and simply repeating themselves in the same way, as they desperately attempt to convince people of their point of view. Yet they only achieve frustration, without creating the result they are looking for.

There can be a different way, which is kinder and more inclusive. This approach tends to lead to those involved feeling better and also tends to create more successful, more expansive outcomes, even if these differ somewhat from what you originally intended.

I’ll use this perspective to highlight some of the ways people are choosing to communicate, the different styles they adopt, as well as the pros and cons of each. As you read the various communication styles, I suggest that you ask yourself some questions. The fundamental question is, “What is true for me here?” Broadly speaking, in each example, one way of communicating has more control and more logic while the other is more fluid and relies on creating genuine connections with others.

Being interesting or being interested?

A lot of people aim to be interesting, thinking that they will be able to win people over and get what they want or to entertain them. What tends to happen is that the other person feels left out and overlooked. So, even if you manage to push through the outcome that you desired, it may be that the other person is quietly resisting or becoming bored. Frequently, this resistance results in future problems.

In contrast, when you are interested, you are focussed on the other person and what they are saying. By asking them questions and actively listening to their responses, the other person can feel heard and understood, something I believe we all desire. You may also feel as if you have lost control and your familiar way of doings things. However, as this is much more likely to reveal what the other person desires, it can be more productive, resulting in less conflict further on the line. The person is grateful for you and may be drawn to offer you something in return, which can result in what you desire.

Hearing the words or perceiving the energy?

You have probably had the experience of someone committing to doing something, whilst feeling something isn’t quite right. Then later, not feeling surprised when they don’t follow through on what they said they were going to do.

Although in our logical society, we don’t tend to talk about it like this. What has happened is that you perceived the energy of the other person and knew it was not congruent with what they said they were going to do.

Functioning only from others’ words means we stay in a predictable, logical reality where we can record and “prove” what people have said. By including what we perceive in their energy, we move into different territory and can get a sense from where they are functioning and what is true for them, even if we cannot “prove” it in a traditional way.

To be in this second space, we have to be willing to give up control, to let go of our expectations of how we think our discussions should turn out and subsequently, be willing to trust our instincts. As a result, instead of reacting to the situation, we can move on to create more possibilities.

Preparing or thinking on your feet?

People often like to prepare what they are going to say and not vary from this script, even when they notice the other person is resistant or unable to hear what they are saying.

The alternative to this is to have an idea of what you would like to say whilst paying attention to the other person or people. How are they responding? Are they paying attention, or are they bored? Based on these cues, you adjust your words and the ideas you present.

Using the latter approach requires that you be really present and alert. You also have to be willing to relinquish strict control of the direction of the conversation in favour of paying attention to what the other person is saying. The advantage to this is that you may achieve mutually desired results.

Making people feel good or making people feel?

Some people will focus on making another person feel good whilst others will be more interested in making the other person feel – and by this, I mean giving space for the other person to think and feel the way they do without reacting nor resisting, while tuning in with that other person, sensing where they are and responding accordingly.

What can be difficult for people with this approach is that they perceive it to take more time and effort, as well as requiring skills which they don’t believe they possess. The benefits of really being present with someone is that they not only feel heard and understood, they get clarity and a sense of ease. This genuine connection is much more likely to create the outcomes you desire.

So, what is true for you?

What I see is that by being willing to sense the energy as well as hear the words during interactions, and by being willing to be present with what is unfolding rather than following a predetermined course of action, something greater can be created. If this appeals, I suggest asking some simple questions before you meet the other person: “Do I have an agenda here, or am I open to possibilities? What words can I say that this person can hear? What possibilities are available here that I have not even considered yet?” and allow yourself to receive the information, to get a sense of what will be a contribution to you and the other person and what you desire.

 

What if your way to communicate could be more efficient, easy and create more of the success you desire by including the reality of the other person, what you sense at the energy level and by asking simple questions?


Edith Paul is a Life Coach, inspirational speaker and certified facilitator of several Access Consciousness® specialty programs, including Right Voice for You. A committed educator and compassionate community volunteer, Edith has been teaching Mathematics and English to adults for more than a decade and has been an Al-Anon support representative in her local community. She travels internationally, extending an invitation to the curious to trust their internal knowing.


Have your employees lost confidence in their ability to do their work?

Perhaps the company is working with fewer resources on bigger projects.

Maybe employees have had to take on more responsibilities.

Or perhaps the company structure has changed due to a re-org or new leadership.

Whatever the reason, if you’ve noticed employees are less engaged or less productive, they likely could benefit from more confidence at the workplace. As a leader, you possess the skills and some might argue, the obligation, to encourage your employees’ confidence. Not only will they be happier in their jobs and more likely to be retained, but in challenging situations, their increased confidence will help ease transitions, reduce tension and increase motivation. Here are my five suggestions for how to increase confidence in your employees.

1. Open lines of communication

Keep the lines of communication open with all employees, at all times. According to The Carrot Principle by Adam Gostick and Hester Elton, your very best performers are also often the most insecure people in the organization. Talk with employees about their work environment, even those exhibiting no signs of stress or lack of confidence. Don’t assume you know which employees will benefit the most from this conversation. Have it with all of them and have it often. Specifically address:

  • The company: What’s important to the company at this time? What are the business objectives?
  • Their role: How does he/she make a difference? How do his/her efforts align with the business objectives?
  • Their motivation: What’s in it for him/her when he/she does make a difference?

2. Set Clear Expectations

Ensure employees understand what is expected of them. Link these expectations to benefits for the company as well as the employee personally. A best practice is to write them down and regularly review to measure progress and course correct when necessary. Confidence in the workplace involves trusting and believing in the leaders. In turn, make sure you understand what the organization and your manager expect of YOU.

3. Be Conscious about Recognition

It is important to notice and recognize when employees meet their personal goals or achieve steps toward meeting goals. Recognition does not have to be expensive or take a lot of time – sometimes a simple ‘thank you’ goes a long way. It’s important to be specific about the behavior or result being recognized and to connect it back to the company’s goals. It’s also important to give recognition evenly and consistently. Strong leaders will find something to recognize in each employee based on their daily job performance and contributions to the overall business goals.

4. Encourage Idea Sharing

Encourage employees to share their ideas and create forums where these ideas can be easily exchanged. Be fully in the moment during these sessions giving your employees and their ideas your full attention. Adopt the philosophy, “There is no bad idea in idea sharing.” Listen closely and take opportunities to build rapport across the team, group or company. Having a voice and having it heard is important in boosting confidence.

5. Reduce negative talk

As I recommended in Increase Your Self Confidence in the Workplace, changing the little voice in your head that says, “You can’t do that” or “You’re not smart enough for this” into more positive thoughts eventually helps your brain change the interpretation of the situation. As you become more optimistic, you build self-confidence about your abilities to handle the work. Similarly, replacing negative talk with optimism will help employees build more confidence in their abilities to do their job and motivation to work toward the team and company’s goals.


Taking these simple steps will help boost employees’ self-confidence in their ability to do their job well and feel confident about their value to the organization. By building their confidence, you will make a difference in your employees’ commitment to their work and establish more positive outcomes for the company.

An unknown source said, “With confidence, you can reach amazing heights; without confidence, even the simplest accomplishments are beyond our grasp.”

What amazing heights will you help your employees reach today?

 

Linda O’Neill is the vice president of strategic services at Vigilant, a company dedicated to helping companies in Oregon, Washington, Montana, Idaho and California solve their most complex employment issues. Linda is a certified executive coach and organizational development expert who works with Vigilant members companies to create high functioning organizations, at the individual, team and systemic levels. Linda is graduate of the University of Oregon, BS in journalism and public relations.