Lessons from Mike Robbins’ Difficult Conversations Workshop

Unfortunately, there is no magic formula to help you through a difficult conversation. It is inevitable that we will all face these conversations many times in our personal and professional lives. While they are unavoidable, messy and hard for us to face, there are some golden rules we can follow in order to make them effective and successful.

Yesterday, we had the privilege of hearing Mike Robbins break down this topic for us and we came away with several applicable tools. We’d like to share them with you in hope of giving you more confidence to tackle difficult conversations.


The main component of tough conversations isn’t talking, it’s listening. Often, we are so concerned about getting our point across that we don’t move our attention from ourselves to the other person. The power of a conversation comes fundamentally from listening. It cannot go anywhere and progress towards a solution if you aren’t actively listening.

Mike suggests using the acronym WAIT: Why am I talking? This is a helpful reminder to not say anything without making sure it is concise and vital to the discussion. It also reminds you to stop talking and let the other person have their time to speak.

Listening also fosters empathy in tough conversations. Mike offers three components of effective listening:
1. Listen to what people are saying
2. Hear and feel the emotion
3. Let go of your filter

When you fully listen to someone, you can better understand that person’s emotions. When you have empathy for another individual, you’ll find the conversation progress in a stronger, deeper manner. Plus, if you feel truly heard, it will encourage you to speak even more from the heart and allow yourself to become more vulnerable. As Mike pointed out, the natural human response to vulnerability is empathy. The more we can all be honest with our emotions, the better.


In today’s technological world, we are even more distracted than normal. Constant distractions make it even harder to fully engage in tough conversations. Here are Mike’s six steps to engagement:

1. Take responsibility
2. Address the Issue
3. Seek to understand the other side
4. Use ‘I’ statements instead of ‘you’
5. Go for the win-win
6. Acknowledge the other side

Using ‘I’ statements is something the CFBC practices in Forum. Nobody likes having a finger pointed at them – you should do this, you never do that, etc. By taking responsibility for your perspective and your actions, you’re making the conversation more comfortable and less aggressive.

If you ever feel victimized, you probably feel like you aren’t being appreciated. Eliminating ‘you’ statements will help you feel less like a victim and more like a human being that is being truly heard and understood. Appreciations are also practiced in each Forum meeting because we believe that everyone can benefit from a boost to their self-esteem. Mike recommends ending every crucial conversation with an appreciation.


We’d like to end with one last message from Mike Robbins: Self-Awareness is humbling. In order to have effective difficult conversations, you must be self-aware. How are you feeling in this moment? What have you done that could be improved on? What would make you feel better about the situation? How valuable is this relationship to you? What do you want your outcome to be? Being in touch with yourself and your emotions is the first step in communicating them to others. And, once you do that you’ll be surprised to find how great it makes you feel to take ownership of yourself.

Remember that you can reference the Emotional Jug to help get a perspective on your own emotions. And, Mike has a great visual tool of an iceberg to represent what we show others vs. how we truly feel (see above). You can think of the tip of the iceberg as what you communicate externally. The rest of the iceberg that sits below the water is how you honestly feel about the situation. Mike challenged us to lower our waterline and reveal how we really feel to others as a way to encourage self-awareness and build engagement and empathy with others.

If you’d like to learn more about Mike Robbins, please visit his website.

Members can download Mike’s presentation on the members-only site.

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