How to transform those uncomfortable conversations into productive and positive discussions

Quick notes:

  • Liz Kaplow, a longtime business owner, suggests starting difficult conversations by reminding everyone that you’re on the same team

  • She also recommends focusing on old-school business tips: being on time, having a firm handshake, etc.

  • Be honest with yourself and others in your business conversations

Everyone has to have difficult conversations sometimes. Whether you’re trying to move through a rough patch in a personal relationship or dreading an uncomfortable confrontation with a new and underperforming employee, no one looks forward to awkward conversations. But thanks to some new communications research, your difficult conversations might not have to be so difficult anymore.

What is the magic phrase?

Liz Kaplow is a business owner and an excellent all-around communicator. In her 30+ years as a professional, she has discovered several ways to make her (and your) professional life more satisfying for everyone, including the magic phrase that can help all conversations be more productive and beneficial.


Instead of going into each conversation focused only on the specifics, Kaplow recommends beginning by creating a level playing field, especially if you’re the boss. No matter what you’re talking about, if you start the conversation by making sure that everyone knows that you’re all on the same team and trying to reach the same goals, your overall conversation (and relationship) will be much more positive and productive, even if you have to give bad news or criticism sometimes.

Start off the conversation by making sure that everyone knows you’re all on the same team

Kaplow’s chosen method of approaching this mindset boils down to one simple phrase: “I’m for you.” When she starts an awkward conversation, in her personal life or her professional life, she begins with this phrase to let the other person know that whatever information she has to convey, it is all in the interest of making them a better partner, employee, or person. While this won’t always make every conversation super fun, it will certainly make for fewer people storming out of meetings and probably a better environment overall.

What other career advice does Kaplow have?

Most of Kaplow’s business advice is relatively simple and incredibly effective. She says that most modern-day business people need to go back to focusing on the basics: arrive on time, perfect your writing, and your speech to communicate your messages effectively, have a firm handshake. Not only will these little tips make you a better employee and co-worker, but they might also even make you rise above the rest of the crowd, which is just what you want when it comes to promotion time.

Kaplow also emphasizes the importance of taking personal responsibility. If you make a mistake, as all of us do from time to time, own up to it. Apologize directly to the affected person or apologize aloud to yourself; you’ll be amazed how much a simple apology can do for your work relationships and your mental health.

Not only will these little tips make you a better employee and co-worker, but they might also even make you rise above the rest of the crowd

Everyone has stress in their daily lives, and Kaplow even has a solution for dealing with it. Like everything she suggests, her stress cures aren’t revolutionary or complicated, and they work. She recommends embracing the stress instead of fighting it: try and find the primary cause of your stress and deal with that instead of continuing to push it aside. You’ll find a solution to your big problem and get rid of your stress in one fell swoop.

For Kaplow, the bottom line is honesty and respect, both with yourself and others. Take time to relax and decompress when needed, and be prepared to face conversations and consequences at work head-on. It might be difficult at first, but when you’re no longer stressing about a meeting or a mistake, your life will be so much better.

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