How to Have that Difficult Conversation

Monday, August 7, 2023 | 2:00 – 3:00 p.m.
Stephen J. Johnson, MA, CMCP, Cambridge Emergency Communications

Stephen J. Johnson of Cambridge Emergency Communications has something to say. In our line of work, we all have something to say. Unfortunately, not all of those conversations are easy to have. Johnson started off by providing the audience with his professional background. He is a self-proclaimed “wearer of many hats” including being an ordained minister. Johnson stated he “wants to help people to be the best version of themselves.”

Johnson provided us all with his formula for having difficult conversations, and with much interaction with the audience, he was able to provide us with real-life examples of each step. Ask yourself why you are putting off having the conversation? Why is this conversation difficult for you? Mentally prepare yourself to speak with the other party. The third step is to follow the formula that Johnson has created.

In the next part of the session, Johnson went over reasons why we struggle to have conversations with people. It all comes down to our fears, fear of ruining a relationship, fear of dislike, fear of rejection. As a human race, we want to be perceived as a good person. There are also several purposes for having these conversations. There is a problem that needs to be solved; your place of employment strives to achieve growth and progress, to move towards peace, better connections, and relational health.

Johnson has what reads like a checklist to ensure that you are ready to have that conversation, such as: prepare to be emotionally present and empathic, be clear with your intentions, clarify the problem and stay on task. If you answer no to any of these questions, do not have the conversation.

Johnson’s formula was the last topic covered. Ask for permission, describe the problem and its effects, ask an open-ended question, and conclude with established boundaries and possible follow-up. The floor was then opened up for questions and it was asked how someone should handle a conversation when the other person has “shut down.” Johnson stated “you are not responsible for how they feel” and also suggested calling them out on their behavior, politely, of course.

Submitted by Jen Novick