Appropriate challenging/difficult conversations

Some advice about difficult conversations

Appropriate challenging / difficult conversations

Appropriate challenging involves placing demands on people because, generally speaking, they are receiving information they don’t necessarily want. It’s not surprising that we often withhold ‘bad news’ even when it is in the other person’s interest to hear it.

It is said that this dates from ancient times when the messenger who bore bad news to the monarch was sometimes killed. This led, not unnaturally, to a reluctance on the part of the messengers to bring such news.

Challenging people respectfully is both difficult and demanding. It frequently involves unsolicited information/feedback about some aspects of behaviour which the person may be unaware, it invariably produces discomfort.

One can never be sure how the other person will react. The uncomfortable news involved in any kind of challenging can arouse discomfort in the challenger, no matter how he/she thinks the receiver will react. If you fall victim to this effect you will be a less effective influence than you might otherwise be.

Anxiety is a normal part of the process.

People often avoid challenging because they are afraid of conflict.

Challenging in the sense used here is inviting the other person to look at the situation differently, especially if their view is distorted, misinformed or unrealistic. Challenging may be appropriate when the person…

  • is reluctant to accept their responsibility for certain events
  • is clinging to old dysfunctional attitudes or ways of behaving
  • is being evasive or game playing
  • is reluctant to take on alternative or new ideas
  • is failing to understand the consequences of their behaviour
  • has failed to meet agreed deadlines
  • behaves in a way which contradicts what they say
  • refuses to acknowledge your viewpoint

Challenging has to steer a course between too aggressive and too submissive.

Effective challenging

Effective challenging involves being assertive.

Raising awareness of what is happening, supported by facts.

  • Ask a direct, open question about what you sense the person is avoiding, e.g. “When, How, Why, What, Where”?
  • Feedback to the person on how they are impacting on others by their attitude or behaviour
  • Educative feedback - advise the person on how to get help and support.
  • Change focus from “what?” to “how?” from “then and there” to “here and now”, from “I can’t” to “I choose not to”
  • Affirm all the positive qualities the other person possesses
Send to Kindle

Booklets and Downloads

The information on this site is also available in other formats such as downloadable PDFs and Kindle books.

Need help right now?

24/7 Support for all UK staff in education.

08000 562 561

From Education Support Partnership