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Section 1: What is a Difficult Conversation?

Difficult Conversations

A difficult conversation is any discussion where any of the following conditions exist 

  1. There are strong differences of opinion between two people  

  2. Either or both parties are emotionally attached to an idea or opinion.  

  3. Either or both parties are not meeting the expectations held by others 


Whether conscious or not, named or not, human beings enter every interaction with certain expectations and positions. And, as human beings, we often cannot help but react with strong emotions to those expectations or positions being challenged. 

Emotions, Offense, and Defense

When tensions exist in a mentoring relationship, it can elicit strong emotional reactions including disappointment, fear, anger, and frustration. These emotions can be felt by both parties in a challenging situation and almost invariably lead us to feel offended or to anticipate being offended, and to react defensively.  


Questions to Consider

Before exploring strategies for navigating difficult conversations, take a moment to reflect upon your prior experiences.  Consider the questions below twice—once with a difficult personal conversation and again with a difficult professional conversation in mind.

  1. What was the issue that precipitated the conversation?

  2. How much time did you spend preparing for the conversation before having it?

  3. What were the emotions you were feeling?

  4. How clearly were you or the other person thinking during the heated moments?

  5. Was there any relational damage control that had to be done afterwards? Did the issue addressed get blown out of proportion or not get addressed due to the emotions involved?


Source: Boyers (2020)

The Professional Cost of Having and Avoiding— Difficult Conversations

Workplace research estimates that each U.S. employee spends 2.8 hours out of each work week dealing with workplace conflict caused by people who should have engaged in a difficult conversation to resolve an issue. Twenty-two percent of employees report that these unresolved conflicts have led to illness and workplace absence. And such unaddressed conflicts are cited as a reason for quitting a job in about 35% of resignations (Boyers, 2020).


Pause & React

Directions: Consider the situations below in the context of mentoring a new teacher, teacher candidate, or on-the-job candidate and sort each situation into the appropriate response category. After sorting each situation below, consider these from the perspective of the mentee: If you were the mentee in each of these situations, how would you hope your mentor would approach you? Click "Submit" to complete your response. You can also record your responses in your Module 5 Companion Guide to keep them for future reference.  


Note: If one or more of the scenarios below does not apply to the role you've chosen to consider, you may leave it on the left.  

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