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Questions to Prepare for a Difficult Conflict Conversation

“Originally published at Ezine Articles.”

Addressing a conflict is never an easy process, but there are specific steps you can take to prepare yourself for a difficult conflict conversation. Ask yourself these questions so you are empowered, focused, productive and constructive during the resolution process:

  1. What are your conflict resolution goals? Most people want the conflict and the suffering to end. Success is not always measured by a final resolution but by a working agreement that changes as the parties grow and rebuild trust. Knowing your goals will help guide the conversation and keep you on track.
  2. Which goals are not within your control? You cannot control another person’s behavior or attitude. Avoid goals that require the other person to change. Focus on what is within your power to change. For example, an effective goal would be to identify behavioral responses you can use when you feel you are being treated disrespectfully.
  3. What are the most important issues to discuss and/or resolve? Think about what is bringing you to the conversation in the first place. The issue(s) is the topic of disagreement. List the issues and then prioritize them from most to least significant. Consider the issues the other person(s) might bring as well. Their concerns might not be the same as yours.
  4. What are your unmet needs and values? Conflict is driven when each party has needs or values that are continuously undermined or unmet. For example, an ongoing conflict may diminish your reputation and credibility within the organization. In this instance, you need to restore and protect your professional identity. Make sure you clearly identify and articulate your needs during the conversation.
  5. What are the other person’s unmet needs and values? Consider the other party’s unmet needs or values. By doing so, you prepare yourself to listen and acknowledge what is important to the other person. The other person’s work ethic and integrity might be what drives them.
  6. What key messages do you want to deliver? Think about important impact statements you need to make to the other person for them to hear and understand your perspective. For example, “I don’t hate you. The morale of team members has been negatively impacted by your aggressive behavior.”
  7. How do you want to behave in these conversations? In other words, think about how you want to act when the conversations get uncomfortable or your hot buttons are pushed. If your intention is to be respectful and calm, create a strategy that will help support these behaviors even if you are emotionally triggered.
  8. What do you do or say that might trigger the other person? Identify behaviors, attitude, body language or tone that can cause the other person to react to you. For example, if you tend to use a sarcastic tone, produce an unpleasant sound or say in a raised voice “You should have known better!” then prepare in advance to communicate your message in a way that can be heard without triggering the other person.
  9. What obstacles might interfere with a productive conversation? Reflect on the barriers that can hinder this conversation. Typical examples include past history, false assumptions about the other person’s intent, blaming and shaming behaviors, erroneous information, not listening or expressing yourself, and not having the right decision-makers at the table.
  10. What, if any, topics are off limits to these conversations? Some issues are not appropriate to bring to the table and can derail a difficult conversation. For example, sexual harassment accusations or discrimination complaints from years ago or hearsay issues from other non-involved parties should not enter the discussion.
  11. What questions remain unanswered? Make a list of open-ended questions that require answers or clarifying information. Be purposeful and allow the person to fully answer the question before responding. This will demonstrate your curiosity, help gain understanding from their perspective, and give you the missing information you need.


Patricia “Pattie” Porter, LCSW, AAP
Author/Radio Host/Conflict Management Specialist
The Texas Conflict Coach®



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