How to Navigate Difficult Conversations

We can’t avoid difficult conversations altogether, but we can navigate them more adeptly by learning to listen and communicate mindfully.


The difference between ordinary conversations and challenging ones is a bit like the difference between canoeing on open water and running rapids. Both involve paddling with balance, but the stakes are much higher and the skills more demanding in white water. Think of a terrible argument you had with someone or a time when you tangled with a coworker. Intense emotions, personal blind spots, and mistaken assumptions can make high-stakes conversations unproductive and even explosive. The boat capsizes, your gear gets soaked, and you wash up on shore somewhere downstream.

Like any journey where risk is involved, knowing how to handle yourself when conversation gets complicated is key. Preparing ahead of time helps clarify what’s important, reduces reactivity, and increases the likelihood that we will be able to engage in a way that is in line with our intentions. Paramount to this is our internal preparation:

1. Nourishing yourself before a difficult conversation can help you feel clear, balanced, and well resourced.

This means getting some empathy for any pain, anger, or upset you may feel. Empathy can reduce reactivity and create more space to hear the other person. Find someone you trust, and ask them to listen to what you…

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About the author

Oren Jay Sofer

Oren Jay Sofer teaches meditation and communication retreats and workshops nationally. A member of the Spirit Rock Teachers Council, is is a Certified Trainer of Nonviolent Communication and a Somatic Experiencing Practioner for the healing of trauma.