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Why calling difficult conversations difficult is a self-fulfilling prophecy

Difficult conversations

Just the phrase itself can evoke a sense of dread and discomfort. I strongly believe that labelling these interactions as ‘difficult’ sets the agenda for anxiety and tension.

But what if we reframed our perspective and viewed these conversations as opportunities for personal and interpersonal growth?

Language shapes our perceptions and influences how we behave.

When we tell ourselves that something is difficult we prime ourselves to expect adversity. If we don’t position it right for ourselves, we will go in anticipating resistance and discomfort. Then we align our actions and words with these expectations, making the conversation genuinely difficult.

When we tell ourselves something is going to be difficult, we are lining ourselves up to feel fearful of the conversation. And when we’re scared of something, and some anticipated outcome, we’re likely to either avoid, mishandle or unintentionally take the conversation down a negative path.

There is a fantastic opportunity to use conversations that challenge us, to learn about how the other person feels, and why they behave the way they do. It is an opportunity to develop into brilliant listeners and build the resilience and skills to navigate complex conversations.

When approached constructively these conversations can underpin and strengthen relationships. When we reframe them as growth opportunities, address issues, resolve conflicts and enhance understanding, we create space for open and honest dialogue. This can improve trust and build stronger connections with others.

Reframing the way we think about these conversations widens the opportunities to use broader language and be mindful of our words and actions; focusing on empathy and finding common ground.

When we stop assuming these conversations will be difficult, we can look for different approaches to overcoming obstacles and be more solution-focused. The change in perspective will lead to more productive conversations.

If your team member comes into a conversation already expecting it to be difficult and challenging, the message can so easily be lost in the delivery, words, tone, and body language. If you go in with an open mindset, ready for an honest and masterful, growth conversation, it will open the door for a positive feedback loop. Everyone becomes more inclined to view future conversations in the same light, which can transform our attitude towards challenging conversations.

By calling difficult conversations difficult, we’re setting ourselves up to miss an opportunity to grow, develop personally, strengthen relationships, and become more effective communicators.

It is time to change the narrative and recognise that difficult conversations are not obstacles but opportunities to progress and deepen connections.

If you’re ready to reframe difficult conversations with your management team, get in touch with me at to find out how.


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