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How to Manage Difficult Conversations: Beginners Guide

Become more confident holding talks about tough, difficult topics. Learn communication skills and successful mindsets.
4.3 (24 ratings)
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201 students enrolled
Created by Markus Amanto
Last updated 10/2016
$19 $95 80% off
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  • 1 hour on-demand video
  • 5 Articles
  • 2 Supplemental Resources
  • Full lifetime access
  • Access on mobile and TV
  • Certificate of Completion
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What Will I Learn?
Feel more confident holding talks about challenging topics
Improve your way of relating during talks
Increase skill set for holding these talks
View Curriculum
  • No specific requirements are needed for this course

Learn the basic concepts, skills and mindsets for holding talks about difficult or tough topics. Many managers fear holding these talks, yet they are essential to your success as a leader. This course will take you step-by-step through a talk with practical examples and proven advice.

Learn to Master the Preparation, Planning and Performing of a Difficult Conversation With This Step-by-Step Course 

  • Learn to prepare yourself to avoid unnecessary emotional tension
  • Create a plan for the talk will make it easier to hold the talk and that sets you up for success
  • Become skilled at analyzing the situation so you can find the real problem and address it effectively
  • Learn to craft a crystal clear purpose for the talk and how stay on track even when the other person or you own emotions try to derail you
  • Get proven methods and actual phrases to start and end a talk in a good way

Build Your Confidence and Skill Set

A study by CPP Inc found that employees in the US spend approximately 2.8 hours per week dealing with workplace conflict. Psychometrics Canada found in their study that 32% of employees have to deal with conflict regularly. 

Handling difficult requires skill and empathy, but in the end it also about having the courage to go ahead and do it. In the course we will address all of those aspects so you can make a habit to face these issues head on in a good, effective way.

Content and Overview

Special attention has been made remove all the "fluff" from this course so it just filled with practical advice and examples. The course also helps you get started right away with carefully crafted assignments.

You will learn to prepare yourself before the talk to avoid unnecessary emotional tension that could otherwise create undesired outcomes. During the course you will also create a plan for an actual talk that will make it easier to hold the talk and that sets you up for success.

You will also strengthen your skills when it comes to analyzing the situation so you can find the real problem, addressing it clearly and effectively. You will also learn how to craft a crystal clear purpose for the talk and how stay on track even when the other person or you own emotions try to derail you from reaching that purpose.

Throughout the course you will benefit from proven methods and actual phrases that you can to start and end a talk in a way that increases the chances of everyone involved walking away feel good about the talk.

All major sections of the course has a methodically structured quiz at the end to make sure you have grasped the important pointers from that sections. You will also walk away with downloadable material that you can use for future reference.

Who is the target audience?
  • This course is for managers and leaders on different levels in organisations
  • If you are feeling a bit unsure on how to approach and hold talks about difficult topics then this course is for you
  • You do not need to have the formal position of a manager to get benefit from this course
  • If you have a long experience of holding these talks and are looking for a course on legal and cultural aspects of talks, then this course is NOT for you
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Curriculum For This Course
Expand All 44 Lectures Collapse All 44 Lectures 01:10:55
Introduction to the Course
2 Lectures 06:23

Gives you and introduction to the course and how it is designed so you can get the best possible benefit from it. You get a brief overview of the different topics and how this course fits into the overall picture of leadership and management.

Preview 04:11

So you can get started learning right away you get three useful tips including how to use the third party view to set yourself up for a talk with the possible outcome.

You will also learn a handy phrase to start with and an approach that will allow many listening and communication skills to fall into place naturally.

Preview 02:12
Definition of Challenging Topics
4 Lectures 03:30

Courses similar to this one have been called "Challenging Talks" or "Difficult Talks". It is a very counterproductive name though.

The talk in itself does not need to be challenging or difficult even though the topic in itself is that. Therefore this course is about "talks about challenging topics". 

Why it is Called Talks About Challenging Topics

A talk about a challenging topic can be a talk that you feel nervous about, that might keep you awake at night or that you are not even sure whether to have.

The content of these talks are individual, meaning the topics can be different people.

Preview 01:13

Even though what is a challenging topic can be different for different people, in this lecture you get a list of examples of common challenging topics to help you further define this subject.

Examples of Challenging Topics

It is usually not what we do not know that gets in our way. More often it is that we do not use what we know. This assignment will help you put what you learned in this section into practice.

Exercise: Make a List of Challenging Topics

3 questions
5 Lectures 05:13

Preparation is key for success. 

In this lecture you get to hear a quote from Abraham Lincoln, former president of the United States, and how he emphasised preparation for the successful execution of a task.

Six Hours to Chop Down a Tree

This course provides practical advice that you can use right away.

For you to get full benefit from the course you are advised to use an example from your own life that we will work with during the course. You can use an example of a talk that you are planning to have soon, or think you should have soon, or you can use one that you had in the past but that you want to see if you perhaps could have done a bit differently or better.

If you can come up with neither a present one or a past one, you can also make one up, again so you have a situation to work with during the course.

Think of One in Your Life

Having a clear intention for what your desired outcome of the talk is will greatly increase you rate of success.

The intention will help you stay on track and to get back on track if and when you derailed by different things that can occur during the talk.

What is Your Intention? What is Your Desired Outcome?

Setting the frame is an important part of your preparations.

This includes deciding on how much time you want to have for the talk, where to have the talk and how to set that space up for the best possible result.

Set the Frame for a Successful Talk

It is usually not what we do not know that gets in our way. More often it is that we do not use what we know. This assignment will help you put what you learned in this section into practice.

Exercise: Write Example, Intention and Set a Frame

3 questions
Seven Questions to Ask Yourself
9 Lectures 09:07

Using the example you picked in the previous section we will work through seven questions that will greatly help you in coming as prepared as possible to the talk.

In the following lectures we will examine one question at a time. Download the attached resource, a PDF-file, that will allow you to follow along better with the next seven lectures.

Introduction to the Seven Questions

Cleary defining the problem is an essential part of preparations.

Often it is not what we initially think is the problem that is actually the problem and giving this some consideration before the talk helps you plan and execute your talk in a good way.

Preview 00:54

By stepping into the other person's "shoes" you can attempt to imagine how they would see the problem.

Sometimes they are not even aware that there is a problem.

Question 2: What Would the Other Person Say?

Looking at contributions to the problem helps you use a non-judgemental approach to clarifying how you have contributed to the problem and how the other person has done the same.

Becoming clear on this helps you move to a better resolution of the situation.

Question 3: How Have You Contributed?

Many times when we are to hold a talk about a challenging topic we tend to feel and think more than the situation itself warrants. 

Here we will examine how some other factors, psychological and external, can influence you before and during the talk.

Question 4: What Buttons of Yours Are Being Pushed?

When we assume sometimes we are correct in our assumptions and sometimes, or often, we are completely wrong. 

Taking a look at your assumptions regarding the other person's intentions will help prepare you so you can enter the talk with an open mind and increase the chance for a good outcome.

Question 5: What Assumptions are You Making?

Revisiting the concept presented visited in the previous section about you intention with having the talk.

Clearly writing down this intention, your preferred outcome, is an essential part of your preparations.

Questions 6: What is Your Intention?

An honest look at what kind of working relationship you would like to have with the other person after the talk will also benefit your preparations and how you act during the talk itself.

Question 7: What is Your Preferred Working Relationship?

It is usually not what we do not know that gets in our way. More often it is that we do not use what we know. This assignment will help you put what you learned in this section into practice.

Exercise: Answer the Seven Questions

Seven Questions
5 questions
11 Lectures 28:58

Unsuccessful people tend to be stuck in thinking that they need to have something before they can do something that will allow the to be happy, rich or successful.

Successful people tend to view it the other way around, when they become a successful person, when they see themselves as that, they will naturally do what successful people do and will then have the things they want.

Preview 01:58

The real "enemy" during a talk about challenging topics is not other person, but a winner-loser mentality where you see it as one person, usually yourself, winning and the other losing.

We could also call this mentality "right or wrong", where it becomes overly important to be right about something.

The Importance of Having a No Winner or Loser Mentality

It is easy to stuck in a talk by having misconceptions about what the talk should really be about.

A talk about challenging topics should for example not be about what the contract says, but rather what the contract means. The conflict does not lie in the truth, but in conflicting values, perceptions and feelings.

What it is About and What is Not About

A change of mindset is often necessary when holding talks about challenging topics.  

We can call this reframing, moving from preconceived ideas such as that the talk is about blaming when it is much more productive to reframe it to contributions instead.

Reframe the Way You Look at Things

It is vital to respect not only the other person, but also yourself, during a talk on a challenging topic.

Respect is Key to Success with Talks

The OK-Matrix describes how you can enter an encounter with another person with four different mindsets depending on if you think you are OK or not OK, and if you think the other person is OK or not OK.

You can also get caught in the common "Crazy Loop" between anger and shame.

The OK-Matrix

"I love you, I hate that you drink". 

Being able to separate the person from the behavior decreases the risk of the the other person becoming angry, defensive or shutting down completely.

Separate Person and Behavior

With the best of intentions for your talk you can still get sidetracked during the talk by your own emotions. We all have "hooks" that we get caught on and that can trigger overly emotional responses in us.

If you do not learn to manage your emotions during the talk you can miss your desired outcome completely.

A key distinction is to distinguish that you have emotions, instead of them having you.

Sidetracker No 1: Your Own Emotions

You can also get sidetracked by the other person consciously or unconsciously using different thwarting ploys, such as lying, shouting, crying and stonewalling. 

Learn to address the behavior in an effective way so it does not hinder you from reaching your purpose for the talk.

Sidetracker No 2: Thwarting Ploys

It is in the moments that we stop loving ourselves fully that we tend to do things that we regret later. 

We lose our temper or allow the other person to take emotional advantage of us.

Love (Yourself)

It is usually not what we do not know that gets in our way. More often it is that we do not use what we know. This assignment will help you put what you learned in this section into practice.

Exercise: Apply the OK-Matrix

10 questions
Let’s Do It!
9 Lectures 14:05

Being centered is the final piece to staying on track towards your intention. 

When you are centered in your personality you are more present in the moment and more immune to the distractions that may pull you off track.

Being Centered

Additional points to keep in mind before, during and after the talk, such as seeking permission, taking responsibility for your part and not overamplifying feedback.

Further Key Points

When you have done your preparation and worked on your mindset you might ask yourself "How do I start the talk itself?".

This is very common to experience and here you get a couple of tips for how to start your talk.

How to Start

A sample of actual phrases to use when you want to invite the other person or initiate the talk.

The inviting to or starting of a talk can be perceived as tricky and these phrases will help you with that.


How you end is equally important as how you start, perhaps even more important.

Things such as reaching agreement, deciding where to meet again and following will be important parts of your success with this part.

How to End

Sometimes the other person is not willing or capable of changing their behavior.

Here you get some proven tips for handling those situations.

If No Change

Sometimes you have the power to impose an income, for example firing someone. 

Many managers and leaders describe these talks as extra challenging. There are some important things, such as sitting with anger, that will you manage these talks successfully.

Power to Impose an Outcome

What works in one country may not work in another country due to the legal system. What works in the culture of one organisation may not be appropriate in another.

Checking and clarifying that framework ahead of time will make your life easier.

Check Legal and Cultural Framework

It is usually not what we do not know that gets in our way. More often it is that we do not use what we know. This assignment will help you put what you learned in this section into practice.

Exercise: Select Opener and Start

Lets do it!
8 questions
1 Lecture 01:09

Part of preparing for your talk is revisiting the seven questions you answered previously and add new angles and information to them from what you have learned in the course.

During a "dry run" in your mind, rehearsing your talk, will also be a helpful part of your preparation.

Review Your 7 Questions and Do Dry Run
Course Wrap-Up
3 Lectures 02:30

The goal for a talk is not to perform it beautifully with elegance and pretty words. The goal is openness and honesty.

So take some pressure of yourself related to how you perform during the talk.

Take Pressure Off Yourself

A big congratulations to you for completing the course and some final thoughts on using what you have learned.

Final Thoughts

Want more of Markus? Learn about some of my other courses and how you can contact me for a custom speech, training or other services.

Bonus Lecture: Other Courses and Contact Information
About the Instructor
4.3 Average rating
161 Reviews
1,325 Students
3 Courses
Author. Speaker. Trainer.

Markus Amanto is a well renowned author, speaker and trainer from Sweden. He has worked with improving leaders, teams and organizations in Asia, Europe and North America for over 20 years.

His books include "The Leadership School - Who's Really in the Driver's Seat" and "The Basics of Group Dynamics" (currently available in Swedish only).

He has held multiple positions as a manager. When he worked as a sales representative he built a sales team of over 400 people spanning the Nordic countries.

He started his own consulting business in 1998 and has worked as a certified trainer for UGL-trainings for several years. He is also a certified user of SDI® (Strength Deployment Inventory) Standard and Premier Edition. He is also trained in emotional debriefing, psychosynthesis and has also participated in Anthony Robbins Mastery University.

Clients have included The University of Stockholm, Kongsberg Automotive, Pitney Bowes, Tetra Pak, AstraZeneca, KPMG, ALMI and International Council of Swedish Industry (NIR).

Markus is fluent in Swedish, English, Finnish and Spanish. He is also able to communicate well in Danish and Norwegian.

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