Difficult Conversations Don’t Need to be so Difficult

by | Aug 25, 2020

Darcy Luoma is one of America’s most highly credentialed coaches. She’s worked in 48 industries, with more than 500 organizations, and has impacted tens of thousands of leaders and employees.

Have you ever been part of a conversation where everyone is talking, but it doesn’t feel like anyone is listening?

There’s a reason that there are thousands of books, articles, and podcasts on communication. It’s a universal people problem, and it’s one we see all the time when we’re working with teams.

Communication skills are something that you need regardless of what industry you work in. Even if you work in a cube on a computer all day and never have to talk to clients or customers, you still have to communicate with your colleagues, or at the very least your boss.

In order to be successful, you have to find the BALANCE of three C’s to communicate effectively: courage, compassion, and curiosity. You need all three in order to have a conversation that balances what you want or needs with what the other person wants or needs. If you’re missing any of these three… well that’s when conversations get difficult.

Let’s take a closer look at all three C’s.


The first C is courage. When you have courage, you communicate directly what you want or need. When you don’t communicate with courage you hesitate to say what you really mean. You talk in circles or just hint around the edges, as opposed to being clear and direct. As a result, nobody really knows what you’re trying to say.

In order to communicate with courage, you need to choose to speak up. Pause and Think about what you want to say. Get clear on what it is that you want or need. This might take some work to get really clear on what it is you’re looking for.


You might be thinking, if I said what was really on my mind, I’d lose my job! Well, that brings us to our next C, which is compassion. When you communicate with compassion, you are delivering your message in a way that it can be heard.

Without compassion, people get defensive. Without compassion, conversations often focus solely on the goal of determining who is right and who is wrong. It becomes a battle of who can win.

If it feels like the only option is to have this type of right/wrong, win/lose conversation, or no conversation at all, this is time to engage your core. Consider your choices and focus on what you control. When you turn up the dial on compassion, the chances increase greatly that the other person will actually hear your courageous message.


The final C is curiosity. Curiosity is what ensures you’re working to understand what the other person wants or needs. Curiosity is more than just asking questions. When you’re curious, you genuinely want to understand the other person’s wants or needs. You control if you ask questions that increase your understanding or if you ask a gotcha question that only proves your point.

Curiosity starts by being genuine. What are you truly curious about?

That will help you formulate your questions. I encourage you to think of a few questions you want to ask before you start the conversation. Say the question out loud, and see if it matches the tone that you’re going for. For example, “Why don’t you see it my way?” likely isn’t going to get you closer to collaboration.

Remember, the goal is a conversation that increases understanding to try to get to the win-win, not to have an argument that has a winner and a loser. You are looking to balance your wants and needs with the other persons.


So let’s put it all together. Courage. Compassion. Curiosity. All three are needed to communicate successfully, and you need to BALANCE all three. You know how when you walk on a balance beam you have to make minor adjustments as you go along? It’s the same here.

You might start by leaning into courage, but you go too far so you have to overcorrect and lean into compassion. But you realize it’s all about you, so then you lean into curiosity. Back to courage, and maybe add in a bit more compassion, and so on.


In summary, remember the 3 C’s. Have the courage to say what you want and need. Deliver your message with compassion so they can hear it. And practice the curiosity to genuinely understand what they want and need. When you focus on achieving balance in your relationships, it’s a lot easier to handle your people problems!

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