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Prepare to Engage: Minimizing Anxiety for Hard Conversations

entrepreneur-593358_1920Many of us are conflict avoiders typically avoid because the idea of engaging in a dispute fills us with anxiety. You don’t know how to manage the conversation once it starts and in your past experiences conflict has often had negative results. After I had begun the Negotiation and Conflict Management program at the University of Baltimore, I learned the technique of preparation before a conflict. Preparing for an uncomfortable conversation before it happens is an easy way to minimize anxiety that many people feel about conflict.

Why is preparation an essential ingredient for a hard conversation to go smoothly?

  1. Preparing allows you to be mindful of your fears and anxieties. Acknowledging your frame of mind about the conflict can assist you in re-framing it in a more positive light.
  2. Preparing allows you to format what you want to say and edit to remove any language that could cause the other person to get defensive or take offense.
  3. Preparing also provides you the opportunity to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and anticipate what their responses might be.
  4. Preparing allows you to focus on what you need and want from the conversation and have an end goal in mind.

For example, you need to have a talk with your roommate about cleaning. You don’t like conflict and often feel your roommate gets upset quickly, and you end up giving up because you don’t want to ruin the relationship.

The first thing you need to do is sit down and outline what you ultimately need and want from this discussion. You need your roommate to contribute more to the cleaning of the house. You feel that since she has started her new job, you are constantly the one cleaning.

You don’t want your roommate to get upset or feel attacked so the next step would be to write out how you want to approach this conversation. Perhaps you will say something like:

Sasha, I wanted to speak with you about how to handle the cleaning of the apartment? I feel that since you began your new job, I have been cleaning the house. At first, I didn’t mind because I knew you were adjusting to your new schedule. But, now I feel that it is becoming more difficult for me to manage and I was hoping we could work out a cleaning schedule that is best for both of us?”

Once you have read through what you have written edit any points or possible trigger words that could cause your roommate to become defensive. The next step would be anticipating what your roommate might say. Perhaps she will just apologize profusely and say she didn’t realize she had been slacking. Maybe she will say she doesn’t feel a schedule is necessary everyone should just pick up after themselves and clean when necessary. In both cases, prepare how you would like to respond. If your end goal is to have a cleaning schedule, what can you say to make sure that happens?

Alexander Graham Bell said, ” Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” Addressing conflict and managing it successfully just like anything else requires preparing and practice to become more comfortable and reduce anxieties. Give it a try before your next difficult conversation and take note of how different your experience is.

Have a Great Week,

Abigail R.C. McManus

Guest Blogger/ Host


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Tick.. Tick.. Tick – Addressing Time Management Difference before they Explode.

appointment-15979_1920 One of the ways my husband Bernard and I differ is our time-management skills. I always get things completed on time or earlier; same goes for arriving at appointments and events.   Bernard, on the other hand, is usually if not always late on getting things completed and arriving at places. The difference between our time-management skills has always been something we have been aware of, and it has always driven me nuts.

When we began dating, Bernard would tell me he would be at my house at 7:30 to pick me up and then wouldn’t show up until almost 8:00, this drove me crazy.  I would become angry because I felt like he didn’t value my time. There were some instances where I would stop what I was doing to get ready and then I would find myself waiting around for him when I could have prolonged getting ready a little longer. I also became annoyed because I didn’t have control over when he would get there. Even if I sent him a dozen reminder text messages, he still was in control of when he arrived. Since I am a bit of a control-freak, this never sat well with me.

After fighting about his tardiness on several occasions, I decided to make some changes as these fights would often put a damper on the evening or cause stress and tension between us. I started adding fifteen to twenty minutes onto when he said he’d arrive and using my fixed time rather than the time he gave me to determine when I’d start getting ready. So if he’d say he would be there by 7:30, I would start getting ready at 7:30 and prepare for him to arrive at 7:50ish. The other change I made was I started driving to his house so that I could be more in control of the situation.

The difference in our time-management skills also came very much to light when we were getting ready to send out our wedding invitations. We assigned one another different tasks to complete for the wedding and Bernard was in charge of the wedding invitations. I am the type of person that enjoys completing tasks ahead of schedule so that I can cross it off my list and relieve some of the stress from my life. Bernard is a procrastinator. Therefore, when the deadline was quickly approaching to send out our invitations and Bernard had not begun to complete the task I became very frustrated.

I became disgruntled because I had asked him if he wanted me to do the wedding invitations since he was busy with work and he told me no that he still wanted to do them. He continued to put off the invitations until the last minute, rather than asking for help which increased tension between us. Now, I am aware I could have just jumped in and completed the task myself and saved he and I both from a lot of tension, however, my “micromanaging” had been a heavily discussed topic throughout our engagement, so I was trying not to do that.

While our invitations were sent out by the date, we assigned, Bernard didn’t complete them until the evening before they were due out. In this scenario, neither of us utilized excellent conflict-management skills; we fought every day up until we mailed the invitations. In hindsight, I can say we should have established better expectations as to when and how the invitations should be done. I should have expressed to Bernard how much stress the situation was causing me, without blaming him. Bernard should have expressed how overwhelmed he was with work so that we could have reevaluated our wedding task list.

Differing time-management skills no matter who it is with can cause turmoil. It is important to recognize when it is a trigger and what solutions can help manage it.

If you would like more time-management strategies, check out our latest program with Helene Segura .


Abigail R.C. McManus


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“Stop Being Sensitive!” – A Reflection on Over-Sensitivity



My entire life, I have been told I’m too sensitive. During this past week, a dispute arose between my husband and I that had everything to do with my over-sensitivity. I keep a journal and after many disagreements with my husband and others I usually write about what happened, why I reacted or felt that way, and what I need to do differently next time. It occurred to me as I was writing in my journal that my over-sensitivity has caused many disputes and hurt feelings in my life.

Why do I believe I am so sensitive?

  1.  I over-analyze everything. A friend could say to me, ” You look skinny today!” My initial thought process after I say, “Thank you” is: Do I look fat other days? Did she mean that or was she just being nice? Or was she trying to be mean? Has she been talking to others about me being overweight?
  2. I am self-conscious about certain things that trigger over-sensitivity. Being intelligent is   something I am very self-conscious about, ever since my second-grade teacher referred to me as stupid in front of the rest of my class. I have made it my life goal never to come across as unintelligent. If someone speaks to me in a condescending manner, or implies stupidity, etc. I immediately get defensive.
  3. I jump to conclusions. I get upset because someone said something that I perceived as offensive. Rather than pause and give that person a chance to explain, I get defensive, or immediately believe that it was said maliciously.

I outlined in my journal these reasons above, and I began to brainstorm how I could work to control my over-sensitivity so that I didn’t find myself in conflicts with others.

  1. Pause and Breathe. Breathing is a great regulator of your heart rate and your mind. I love doing yoga, and breathing is a huge part of it, as it helps you remain centered. In situations where I find myself being over-sensitive, I need to remember to take deep breaths, this will allow me to stay calm and centered.
  2. Think positively – Not Negatively. I have to remind myself that not everyone is out to get me. I am unsure when my distrust of others began, or if I have always been this way. However, anytime I find myself getting upset by something someone said, I have to remind myself that they are not saying it maliciously.
  3. Listen, Clarify, and Ask Questions. It is important that I don’t jump all over someone immediately after they offend me. Many times I have found myself not allowing the person a chance to explain themselves or refine what they say. So in the future, I am going to listen, clarify points they make, and ask questions to make sure I understand their point.

If you find you are over-sensitive, ask yourself why? Reflecting and looking inwards has allowed me to make changes that I have found better myself and my life. You can too!

Have a great week!

Abigail R. C. McManus M.S Negotiation and Conflict Management


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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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