- Positive things to say when you're initiating or responding to a difficult conversation.
- How to find and craft language to start a conversation.
- The right words for you to positively influence the situation.
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About the Author
Barbara Mitchell is an author, speaker, and human resources consultant. She is the coauthor of The Big Book of HR, The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook, The Conflict Resolution Phrase Book, and The Essential HR Handbook. Most of her HR career was spent with Marriott International. Barbara is managing partner of The Mitchell Group and an innovative career transition coach.
Cornelia Gamlem, SPHR, president of The GEMS Group, Ltd., consults, speaks, and writes on human resource and management issues. A recognized expert in employee relations and human resources, she has coauthored four books, three with Barbara. Cornelia spent most of her HR career with a Fortune 500 IT services company with a global presence.
Read an Excerpt
What's the Problem?
"If I had an hour to solve a problem, I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about the solution."
— Albert Einstein
Problem-solving is central to man-aging conflict, but the problem can't be solved until it's acknowledged and identified. Just as a physician must diagnose an ailment before treating it, so must the individuals involved in a conflict recognize there is a problem and identify its cause. Getting to the root cause of the problem requires an emphasis on fact-finding and asking good questions. The phrases in this chapter will focus on encouraging dialogue, asking good questions, and managing emotions.
In a conflict, it's important to exchange information and points of view without becoming defensive or arguing. This exchange of information has to be a flexible, two-way conversation. It's important that everyone involved participates and encourages reactions and suggestions. The following phrases can help you start effective dialogue:
I have a dilemma and I need some help with it.
I need to talk through an issue with you.
Something has been brought to my attention that I'd like to discuss.
I need a reality check on something.
I'm having a problem with [person/issue], and I don't know what to do about it. I could use some advice.
I'm trying to solve a problem, and before it gets bigger, I'd like to get your thoughts.
You can talk to me about your concerns.
I'd like to share an issue I really need help with and get your opinion.
I hear what you're saying about [xyz].
Let me repeat what you said so there's no confusion.
I'm not sure that I agree. Let's explore that some more.
From what you observed, this is how you're interpreting the situation.
I'd like to know how you feel about it.
Perhaps you could tell me about [xyz].
What I think you are saying is [xyz].
Sounds as if you really meant [xyz].
You think it's a good idea if [xyz].
You would really like it if [xyz].
You think that [xyz].
I'm so happy you said that because [xyz].
Texting isn't the best way to communicate in this situation. When can we meet to have a discussion?
You said that I don't have all the facts. Please tell me what I'm missing.
You said that I don't have the right context for the situation. Can you provide it for me?
I don't presume to know what you think. You'll have to give me more information.
I know this is a frustrating situation for you, but if we are going to resolve it, I need to ask you some additional questions.
I heard what you said, but I'm confused about your allegations. I need additional information.
If I understand you correctly, [xyz].
In other words, [xyz].
From what you're saying, my sense is [xyz].
It sounds like [xyz].
So your main concern is [xyz].
I really want to know more about your position on the issue. Can we talk and clear the air?
I'd like to hear more about why you are so intent on going in that direction. Since we have different opinions, let's hear each other out.
We need to talk about the email you sent last night. I'm not sure where you're coming from.
What do you think would happen if we don't deal with this?
We need to talk about why you oppose every idea I bring up. I want to understand if it's me or my ideas you don't like.
Thanks for asking. That gives me a chance to share something that's been on my mind and maybe get your thoughts on it.
I might be taking a risk, but I'd like to get your thoughts on what happened in the meeting today when you and I didn't agree on the [xyz] project.
Can we talk about the issues with the project now, or would a time for later in the week be better?
I understand you're frustrated with me. I'd like to share my thoughts and see if we can reach agreement on this.
I'd like to know your thoughts about the discussion we had today in the café.
Please say that again so I can process the words better.
I take our discussions very seriously and really want to hear what happened.
What just happened here?
Thanks for being so open. I'm pretty sure that if we talk this out, we can resolve it.
Thanks for bringing this forward.
I totally agree with what you just said, so let's keep the conversation going.
I know precisely what you said and agree with many of your points, but would like to share my thoughts as well.
I feel like we're on the same wavelength on this one with some minor exceptions. Let's talk.
You're making some really valid points.
Thanks for your honesty. Knowing your thoughts on this will help us move forward.
I'm happy you brought this up.
Getting this out in the open will be a first step.
We all want the same thing: our [team, project, organization] to succeed. If we start from there, we can make it work.
Is there anything else you'd like to add to this conversation before we move on?
Is this what you need me to tell you?
Have I answered your questions?
What more can I share so that we can put this behind us?
I'm so glad we're having this conversation.
I've been waiting for the right time to bring this up and now seems right to me. Does that work for you?
Please know that this isn't a game to me. I really want to have this discussion here and now!
Let's keep our goal of having a strong working relationship in mind as we talk this over.
I'm not going to downplay the challenges we face as we confront this issue, but I have confidence in our ability to work it out.
Let's get all the issues on the table and tackle them one by one until we've resolved them.
If we're going to get to the bottom this, we both need to commit to work towards a solution. We need each other to resolve this.
I'll be glad to listen to whatever you want to share with me now or whenever you're ready to talk.
Thanks for saying that. Helps me know where you're coming from.
I wish you'd look at me when we're talking. It really helps me to connect with you.
Please ask me that in a different way.
Did I answer your question? If no, what do you need from me?
I trust you to keep this confidential so you can speak freely and openly.
I promise I will keep this just between us. No one's going to hear about this from me.
I am so glad you asked about that.
Thanks for taking a risk and bringing up this issue. It needs to be discussed and I appreciate your bringing it to light.
I know it cost you to say what you did and I appreciate it.
This is just between us.
Here's what I need to know.
I think I know where you're coming from, but please tell me again what's important to you.
You know what? This is the perfect time for us to talk about this.
No time like the present to [xyz].
You go first: what are you thinking? Then I will be happy to respond.
Let me jump in here and ask a question [or clarify a point].
I'm not just looking for a conversation. I want to get to the bottom of this!
What are your views on [xyz]?
What's your take on [xyz]?
What are you thinking about [xyz]?
It takes courage sometimes to speak up, so please let me know what you're thinking.
Where can we go with what we know now?
Let's hit rewind and start over.
I think we both know that isn't the case, so how do we move forward?
Something's just not right here.
Feel free to jump in with whatever information you have on this issue.
This is a topic I've wanted to discuss for a long time and now's a great opportunity to do so.
I think we both want the same thing here, so let's see if we can make it happen.
I know we can resolve this, but it's going to take both of us! Let's get started.
Is there at least one other way to look at this issue?
What if we tried it this way?
I'm willing to try it your way.
That's a great idea.
That is a wonderful suggestion. I can see how it will help us resolve this issue.
I can see why this might be frustrating for you.
That's a really good place to start.
Sometimes just jumping in to an issue can break the ice. You want to give it a try, or shall I start?
I love that you're so passionate about this. Tell me more.
I'm really curious about where this is coming from.
Let's look at the benefits of each of our ideas and see how we can come to agreement.
There's a real chance that you see this very differently from how I see it. Let's figure that out.
This is where I am on this at this point in time. Thought it might help you to know that today.
I couldn't agree more and look forward to our conversation tomorrow.
I have no problems with what you just said.
I know exactly what you mean.
You've outlined one way to look at this issue. Allow me to lay out the other side.
There's more than one approach to take to resolve an issue, so let's look at some of them together.
I would find it very helpful if you'd share your thoughts on this issue.
I am sincerely hoping we can exchange views on this issue.
How about we just get together and talk it out?
It's always a pleasure when we have these open and honest discussions.
I'm totally open to any and all suggestions you might have.
This may not work, but would you be okay with opening up a discussion on the topic that came up in the staff meeting today?
Can you tell me how you came to this conclusion?
I'd love to know where this is coming from.
I'll listen to any of your ideas if you commit to listening to mine!
Understand the Facts
If you're going to begin to resolve a conflict, you're going to have to really get inside the issue and probe for more information. Rarely will you have all the information you need to unravel the issues at the start, and you may have to use a variety of questioning techniques to gather the data so that you will be able to resolve the conflict — or at least start the resolution process. The following phrases might help:
Don't jump to conclusions until you've heard all I have to say.
Tell me what happened.
Help me better understand.
Did you tell anyone you would [e.g., be late for work]?
Did you fail to do as you were instructed?
Did you say that you called in sick on Monday or Tuesday?
Do I understand that you [e.g., never received the document]?
How many people [e.g., overheard the conversation]?
On what date did you [e.g., receive that phone call]?
What do you mean she has a poor attitude? Can you describe the behavior or give me an example?
Why do you think that? Give me some specific examples.
Describe the events leading up to [e.g., your manager screaming at the staff].
How did you feel when he said that to you? What was your reaction to his statement?
Please fill me in on the details.
Can you give me a specific example of what happened?
How would that work?
Do you have a particular situation in mind?
What exactly do you want me to do?
Can you tell me the names of the people involved?
Who observed the events?
Who said [xyz]?
Who responded first?
What specifically did you see/observe?
What did you do after [xyz]?
What was your reaction?
What was the reaction of others?
What effect did this have on you/others?
What did he/she say?
What is the relationship between the parties?
What were you and others doing when [xyz]?
When did you first notice/realize/observe/become aware that [xyz]?
When did the problem/situation/issue start?
When did the meeting take place?
When was the email sent/received?
When did you have the discussion/meeting?
How did he/she respond to the situation?
How did you react?
How often did this occur?
How have you coped with/reacted to similar situations/behaviors in the past?
How does that fit in with [xyz]?
How has this affected you/others?
How has this impacted the department/working relationships?
Where did it happen?
Where were you (or others) when this took place?
When she said [xyz], how did he respond?
Did I understand you correctly when you said [xyz]?
Am I right in saying that [xyz]?
Could you please expand on that last statement?
Would you like to add anything else to that?
Is there something else you could say about [xyz]?
Is there some evidence that can support this?
On one hand you say [xyz], but on the other hand you state [xyz].
Fill me in on the details of the conversation that you had with [name].
Did she explain why she gave you the specific answer?
Did you ask him why he came to this conclusion?
Did you tell him/her that you did not agree with his/her conclusion?
Where is that happening?
I'm not familiar with [e.g., the procedures in your department]. Can you review them for me?
I'm not certain who [name] is. Does she work for [name]?
Can you tell me who [names] are? I want to understand their roles in the issue.
Would you like to talk about it? Tell me more about it.
Is there anything else you'd like to say?
Is there anything else I should know?
Could you tell me more about [xyz]?
I'm not sure I understand that word/acronym that you just used. Can you explain it?
Give me a second to consider what I just heard you say.
What exactly happened here?
How do you feel about what happened?
What, if anything, could you have done to prevent this from happening?
Who, besides you, was involved?
Is there anyone who you think might back up your account of what happened if we need that?
This is the very first time I've heard about what happened. Is there a reason you kept it from me until now?
I heard what you said but I need more information.
I need more information on what you just said. This is all new to me.
What more can you say about this subject? Even a few details might help me understand this better.
What's bothering you about this?
I know this was upsetting, but what aren't you telling me?
Do we have all we need to move forward on this? Let's take a break and gather some data?
Let's start again and take it from the top.
It seems to me that something's broken in the way we deal with each other. Can we discuss it and commit to resolving it, if possible?
You've told me how you want to move forward, but I need both the "how" and the "why" to understand our next steps.
Can we take a step back and try this again from the top?
Let's get this all out on the table. Then we can work where we go from here.
What are you not telling me that you think I need to know?
I'm really anxious to get your side of the story.
It will really be helpful to get your opinion on this.
Please slow down and give me some additional facts.
Please help me understand why you said that.
Just a second. I'm not following you.
Am I getting this right? What I think you said was [xyz].
Would it help if I put my questions in writing?
It would only take me an hour or so to capture my questions and email them to you. Will that work for you?
Do you have any information I could read on this?
What are some websites I could access to get more information on this topic? I am feeling underprepared for this discussion.
Is there anyone else we should bring into this discussion to clarify the issues?
Do you think we could table this discussion until morning? I think more clearly early in the day.
This isn't at all where I thought this was going. Give me a second to wrap my head around what you just said.
Walk me though it again, please.
Why did this happen?
Why do you think this happened?
I feel as if I'm coming in on the middle of something here, so can we please start again from the beginning?
Have you ever had this happen before and what was the outcome?
I'm probably missing something really important here because I don't understand where you're headed with this. Can you try again?
I know this isn't easy, but can you go over what happened again?
Do you think we'd move this along if you sent me what happened via email?
I can't read your mind, so please let me know your thoughts on this.
Don't hold back. I want to hear what you think about this topic.
I have one opinion and you have another. What can we do to find common ground?
Let's think outside the box. What do we not know that we need to know? How can we get that information?
Any chance we could take this in a different direction? Where we're headed doesn't feel right to me.
Before we get to the solution, don't you think we should analyze the issue?
Is there any way we can resolve this issue with what we know now or do we need more information?
What do we need to do to get past this?
Maybe if we get away from the office, our issues might be clearer. How about taking a walk with me?
If we really listen to each other, we can change this dynamic.
What's different about this issue today that we didn't deal with last week when we talked? You may have had a change of heart, so let me know what's happening.
Let's dissect what we know to find out what we need to add to our information base.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Conflict Resolution Phrase Book"
Copyright © 2017 Barbara Mitchell and Cornelia Gamlem.
Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
How to Use This Book 11
1 What's the Problem? 15
2 Listen Up! 35
3 Why Can't Everyone Be Like Me? 49
4 What Happened to Team Spirit? 63
5 You Want Me to Do What? 77
6 Don't Draw a Line in the Sand! 93
7 Whose Fight Is It, Anyway? 105
8 Are You Playing Nice in the Sandbox? 117
9 You Can Always Say This… 131
10 … But Never Say This! 149
Excerpt from The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook 157
About the Authors 189