For difficult conversations, set your goals and intentions

I think a lot about how to have conversations about difficult topics.  Many people can do it within my office, but it can be really hard to do in the real world.

Here’s a quick tip that can be useful.  Before you enter into the conversation, think about what your goal is for the conversation. Is it to share your feelings? Is it to ask your conversation partner to make a change? Is it build intimacy? We often enter into conversation with unclear and tangled ideas of our purpose, which can really increase the potential for unhelpful conversations.

Once you’ve gotten clear about your goal for the conversation, then set an intention for how you want to behave in this conversation.  Would you like to be brave? Honest? A good listener? Compassionate? Pick one or two descriptions of how you want to be in this conversation. You might even choose to write it down somewhere you can see it while you are in the conversation, so you can remind yourself if you drift away from your plan.

Then, once you have set your goals and intentions, you might choose to share them with your conversation partner.  Here’s an example of how you might do it:


You: “I’d like to talk with you about our fight last night.  I’d like to share with you what it felt like for me-would you be open to listening to me? Is now an ok time, or should we pick a different time?”

(partner says ok)

You: “Thanks. I appreciate it.  I want you to know that I’m going to do my best to be forthright, but also to be kind in how I say things. I probably won’t be perfect, but I just want to let you know that’s what I’m trying to do. Is there anything I can support you in how you want to be in this conversation?”


My way of speaking may not be your style, so be sure to use your own language and style of speaking. The important thing is to be clear on what you’re trying to do before you open the conversation. When you have a framework for the conversation, I think you’ll be surprised at how much cleaner and more productive the conversation can be.