The Challenging Conversation Bridge

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The magnet rule of challenging conversations.

What happens when we bring 2 magnets of the same poles together? We experience resistance and they won’t meet. The harder we try to push them together, the more resistance there is.

It’s the same with challenging conversations and disagreements. So how can you change the outcome? Magnetise the situation with a challenging conversation bridge.

What you will learn in this episode:

  • The magnet rule of challenging conversations
  • How to disagree productively
  • Your first steps to move along the challenging conversations bridge
  • Turn down the volume in your head
  • Your relationship intention
  • Design the conversation
  • How you show up
  • Go beyond what they say

Find out more:


Hello, and a very warm welcome to Cultural Communication Confidence with me Victoria Rennoldson, and a very warm welcome to this latest episode, where we’re going to be talking about: challenging conversations. Now, this is a topic that I get asked about a lot, and I know that many of my clients, many of the people that I work with, and also many of you out there, have lots of questions about how to handle those difficult situations that come up, when things are not quite as easy as you’d like them to be. And of course, this is normal, this is the normal way of life and workplace, that disagreements come up. But what is important is how do we move through them; how do we find the solutions that mean that we can still meet our objectives and find the right way through. 

What I want to start with is, I want you to think about the magnet rule of challenging conversations. And I want you to think about and imagine two magnets, okay? And if you are in a challenging conversation, where you have two different positions, what’s going on, is that these two magnets are coming together at the opposite ends. So there is resistance from both sides, and that means those magnets can never meet, they’re always in resistance. Now let me ask you, what happens if you push harder? That you try to push your point of view, what you want, and try to get what you want? Well, the harder you push, the stronger the resistance, and what happens is, the other person, the other magnet if you like, continues to push as well, so there is even greater force of resistance. And of course, this doesn’t get results – this just ends up in a situation with huge frustration, high emotions, and potentially real damage, or real risk to the relationship. So what we want to do is find a way through, so that we’re not just pushing harder, but we’re finding a way to magnetise, for you to come together and find that solution. 

So that is why this episode is so critical. And for those of you on different stages of your career journey, this is critical no matter whether you’ve been working a short time, or whether you’re the most senior leader in your organisation, because of course, challenging conversations come up at every stage. Whether that is ‘just about’ (and I use that in inverted commas) ‘just about’ disagreement, so having alternative viewpoints; whether it’s about finding solutions when people are in different places; it could be about giving and receiving deeply honest feedback, and that’s what’s challenging. Or it could be in situations where there is an ongoing disagreement, or there is incredibly high emotion attached to it. It could lead to genuine conflict, which of course is not great for individual or teams spirit, so I think this is obviously a critical point, we need to be able to manage ourselves through those challenging conversations. And I really emphasise ‘manage ourselves’. Interestingly, sometimes I have conversations with people where they’re very keen to point out how unreasonable the other person or group are being, that if only they could change, then things would be a whole lot easier. And of course, there are situations where that might be genuinely true. And, all that we have within our power is to change what we do as individuals. I’ll just repeat that: what we have within our power, is to change what we do, as individuals. So we cannot force behavioural change on other people, but we can take genuine deep responsibility for our own individual behaviours, and that is what I want to share with you here today, so you can start genuinely having an impact in these challenging conversations. No matter what the topic, no matter who’s involved or how strong this challenging conversation is. 

So how do we do this? Well I’m going to be sharing with you a few steps on what I call my challenging conversations bridge, which I use with my clients to help them work through how to move towards solutions, and just like a bridge, you need to take steps over this, to be able to overcome the river, if you like, of the challenging conversation. But it has to start with first steps, so I’m going to share the first part of this process, because I think this is genuinely valuable and and you can implement some of this already today. 

So the first step, is actually what happens before you even engage the other person in the discussion. It starts with ourselves. So the first thing is to take the time to turn down the volume in our heads. What do I mean by this? Well, even if you’re not feeling overly emotional, whether that is positive or negative emotions, about this challenging conversation, it is likely there is something going on through your thought process – you might be replaying previous conversations, you might be reflecting on what you want to say, and how you’re going to best say it, and how you’re going to land that point so they finally understand and get it, and understand that you are right. Sound familiar? So let’s be honest – the problem with that is that we then arrive at our challenging conversation with a whole load of baggage. We have all these suitcases full of past conversations, and planning what we want to say, and it can be unhelpful, because we’re turning up already with some resistance inside us, back to the magnets that I was talking about at the beginning of this episode. So you need to turn down the volume in your head, and if that requires you to have more time to do that, and to really allow that time to calm down, particularly if you’ve had heated conversations previously, I really encourage you to take responsibility for that. So, to allow enough time that you can come into the new conversation fresh, as clean as possible, and with the openness to explore. So this is the first point. 

The second point is about your intention. Yes, there is a goal/objective you’re trying to achieve, but what are you trying to achieve with the relationship? What is it that is going to be important in the way that you have the interaction, which will ensure that you still have that relationship capital ongoing? I usually find the kinds of people that I’m helping are having these challenging conversations with people that they will have to work with again in the future. They’re actually people who are members of the team, or if they’re external, they’re people who are critical to business success. So you have to think about this – what is important in the relationship, not just in your business goal and objective? 

Then, design the conversation. Now this concept, I absolutely love this concept, because for me this is where sometimes challenging conversations go wrong. We set up meetings, where we have the meeting in the usual way, so if that’s possible in the same physical space, face to face, in a meeting room, sitting opposite each other. Well clearly, in that kind of physical space, that creates a dynamic where we are facing opposite each other, that we may be almost accelerating the feeling of resistance, just by the places we’re sitting in, and the way we position ourselves. So, if you are in the same location, then really consider: how could you design a different conversation? Could you do this conversation by going to a different location within the workspace? Is there somewhere more informal or relaxed? Could you do it over a coffee, even outside of the workplace, so it just feels like you’re changing the environment, changing the dynamic, and taking away, perhaps again, some of that historic tension. Now, when it comes to virtual meetings, that’s perhaps a little more challenging – how do you design a conversation if, the vast majority of time, you’re connecting through Teams, or Zoom or Google Meet, and you don’t really have much of an alternative? Well, I would challenge you there, I would be asking myself: how could I switch up the channels? Could you do it as a phone call, rather than as another visual meeting? Is there a different way for you to connect and to have this conversation? And also to flag that you want to design it in a different way with a different kind of agenda? So get creative with this – design the conversation. I find as well, that if you have a particularly challenging conversation to have, and there is high emotion involved, that sometimes even taking it outside and going for a walk together, if that’s physically possible and you’re in the same location, can be incredibly helpful, because you are not even facing each other. Actually, in this situation, taking away the non-verbal cues might be more helpful and create a lower sense of tension. So that’s ‘design the conversation’. 

The next area, which is connected to this, is ‘how you show up’, so this is why we need time at the beginning to turn down the volume in your head. If you’re replaying and considering all the emotions that you’re feeling, you might turn up, even if you’re not aware of it, but subconsciously, with this frustrated emotion. Perhaps even the other person can pick up that you think they’re wrong, that they are clearly not listening to you. These things are not great, and so what we have to really pay attention to is what energy we’re in. If we can keep our energy calm and grounded, keep our energy open, so that we are open to considering that WE might be wrong, that there might be alternatives. But also, that you both might be wrong, there might be, if you’re innovative and creative, there might be alternatives to consider. And then, you want to go beyond what they say. What I mean by this is that, sometimes people aren’t great at at communicating exactly what they mean, so they might not have the best expression for what they’re trying to say. And this might be true if you’re working in very diverse multicultural, multilingual teams, so it really pays, in fact, to take that extra moment to just explore the motivation, the driver, behind what they’re saying, to make sure that you fully understand what they’re saying. And that’s about listening with curiosity, confirming and clarifying you really understood the key points there, so that you are understanding what the conversation is that you’re trying to have. 

Now, these are just a first few steps on this bridge, and there are other actions you can take, but in this short episode, I wanted to give you an introduction, and I feel like these steps alone can help prepare you for the challenging conversation that you need to have, whatever the context, and no matter whether we’re talking about individuals or with groups. So let me ask you: what challenging conversations do you need to have? How much are you paying attention to how you are showing up, energetically, emotionally? What baggage are you carrying around into that meeting? And what can you do differently today, to move forward and bridge forward towards a positive solution, in the challenging conversations that you’re having? I would love to know what really resonates here for you today, so please feel free to drop me a note and let me know, you can message me over on LinkedIn.

 And if you know this is your challenge, this is what you find tough, challenging conversations, and this is what’s regularly going on for you right now, within your team, then I would love to help If you want to go deeper on this topic and explore more about what you can do to change your behaviours, and get more positive results, then come and book a call with me. Let’s have a discussion about what’s going on, and I’ll show you the full challenging communication bridge, and show you how to apply it to your situation. If you’d like to do that, why not book a call with me, you can go to and you can book a discovery call with me there. 

Now, this particular topic, the challenging conversations, is the fourth pillar in the ‘4 pillars of global leader communication’. So previously, we’ve covered the topics of Clarity, Confidence, last week we talked about Connection, and this is the final one, Challenging Conversations. If you feel that you need support across all of these areas, then I highly recommend that you come talk to me about my Global Leader Communication programme. You want to find out more about that, you can also book a call with me, Discovery call, via the link I mentioned above and I’ll put a a link to that in the show notes as well. Thank you so much for joining me here today, it’s been great to see you again on Cultural Communication Confidence, and I look forward to seeing you next time.

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Cultural Intelligence certified facilitator
Cultural Intelligence certified facilitator 2
mybrain mind master practitioner
global chamber
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