What to do when a conversation turns bad

Stop. Stay put. See it through.

When conversations get difficult or disturbing, people are hard-wired to either retreat or attack. Neither of these responses actually resolves the issue, so what’s the alternative? In Process Oriented Psychology (or Process work), the conflict itself is seen to provide the answer. Within the ‘disturbance’ is the very essence of what is trying to be resolved. The only way to unravel the issue therefore is to go deeper into it. 

Sounds uncomfortable? It sure can be! But what does that actually mean? 

It means not running away from the conversation, but sticking it out. It means confronting the situation head on. Right now, not later on. It takes self-awareness and practice to cultivate the ability to sit in the ‘fire’ whilst maintaining our integrity and being ok with our own discomfort. But those who have mastered this skill reap many rewards.

Sitting in this space allows you to slow things down and confront the real issue. You can understand what’s really going on for yourself, and the other person, and together dig for the gold in the disturbance.

Tips for navigating a communication crisis:

  • Stop
  • Take a deep breath
  • Remember who you are and what you stand for
  • Slow down
  • Check for your contribution to the situation – take ownership
  • Take a good look at their side – gain perspective
  • Listen
  • Move forward


Anneli is an author, speaker and communication expert (a.k.a professional People Whisperer), who helps her clients improve their communication, influence and engagement. She’s obsessed with decoding people dynamics for improved performance and specialises in interpersonal intelligence - the ability to understand and navigate the people dynamics in a given situation. 

Anneli is the co-author of Developing Direct Reports: Taking the guesswork out of leading leaders. She is currently working on her next book, ‘Decoding Resistance: The real reason people won’t do what you want’, a practical guide for increasing buy-in, reducing push back and navigating the daily barriers that impact influence, engagement and change.