One of the most commonly downloaded free articles on is called, "We Have to Talk: A Step by Step Checklist for Difficult Conversations." It's been in more company newsletters than I can count, including The Systems Thinker, published by Pegasus Communications.

Recently, one media source condensed my checklist into the following easily digestible 260-word short. Take a look, then pick a conversation you've been putting off and free up your energy.

A Checklist for Difficult Conversations

The majority of the work in any conflict conversation is work you do on yourself. No matter how well the conversation begins, staying in charge of yourself, your purpose, and your emotional energy is key to a successful outcome. Prepare for a conversation you've been putting off by clarifying your intentions and assumptions. Then follow this 4-step model designed to help you stay centered so you can constructively shape how you are and what you say.

Step #1: Inquiry
Cultivate an attitude of discovery and curiosity. Pretend you don't know anything (you really don't), and try to learn as much as possible about your opponent/partner and his or her point of view.

Step #2: Acknowledgment
Acknowledgment means showing that you've heard and understood. Try to understand the other person so well you can make his argument for him. Then do it. Explain back to him what you think he's really going for.

Step #3: Advocacy
When you sense that your "opponent" has expressed all their energy on the topic, it's your turn. What can you see from your perspective that they have missed? Help clarify your position without minimizing theirs.

Step #4: Problem-Solving
Now you're ready to begin building solutions. Brainstorming and continued inquiry are useful. Ask your opponent/partner what he thinks would work. Whatever he says, find something that you like and build on it. If the conversation becomes adversarial, go back to inquiry.

Practice, Practice, Practice
The art of conversation is like any art--with continued practice, you acquire skill and ease.

Author's Bio: 

Judy Ringer is the author of Unlikely Teachers: Finding the Hidden Gifts in Daily Conflict ( and the award-winning e-zine, Ki Moments, containing stories and practices on turning life's challenges into life teachers. Judy is a black belt in aikido and nationally known presenter, specializing in unique workshops on conflict, communication, and creating a positive work environment. She is the founder of Power & Presence Training and chief instructor of Portsmouth Aikido, Portsmouth, NH, USA. To sign up for more free tips and articles like these, visit