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Navigating & Avoiding Awkward Conversations: How to speak to anyone about anything by Julie Crenshaw

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Written by someone who worked in retail, then in a call centre chasing debts and then as a physiotherapist in America.

Main principles:
If somebody shouts at you try not to take this personally.  Their behaviour often relates to what they are going through at that time often with many stresses that you are not aware of.  Generally it is not about you. 

Respond with compassion and empathy, rather than a script.  People tend to want to be heard & their emotions acknowledged. Try to step back and understand what is really going on with a person, and reacting to their needs instead of reacting to solely their words.

Silence is important.  You don’t have to agree with what someone says in order to continue having a conversation with them, neither do you have to argue your thoughts. You can just let someone speak.

Equally excuse me, I need to do this or say no then the reason if you don’t want to get involved in a discussion.

Some people try to give compliments and accidentally provide insults, therefore try to give them a bit of leeway. 

The choice of words does matter – try to avoid always / never / unnecessary fluff words like totally.

Assume that everything has a charge; so example don’t assume you will get free golf lessons.

Contains examples of what to say such as:
Don’t say: “No. There’s no way I can afford that.”
Instead consider: “No thank you. I’d rather keep looking around to see what else I can find.”

Suggests to have boundaries about what you want to discuss, if necessary leave a conversation.  As an example, the author states she doesn’t want to discuss politics and refuses to discuss this.  She also believes that if you are not a parent you can’t comment on parent challenges or not a woman can’t comment on what issues are like being a woman. States can’t comment on racism as she is white which is perhaps a missed opportunity to provide some insight in how to address this important subject, given at times these conversations can be awkward. 


If someone buys you the wrong size clothes don’t accuse them of getting the wrong size on purpose.  They might have done this as a genuine mistake but don’t simply get them to simply promising to do better next time. Instead get them to agree to an action plan that will give the result you want. Strongly hinting at the consequences of their actions if they continued to “forget” in the future, which would be to donate the clothes to charity, without threatening of course…because it was just an accident after all. 

Suggests problems at work best dealt with directly rather than throwing accusations around and belittling others.   If your colleague is underperforming suggests your boss already probably knows so don’t complain.  Consider explaining you what to keep the project on track by having clear responsibilities about who does what.    Advises to keep colleagues separate from personal / home life.

If someone has bad news such as that they have cancer, it doesn’t mean you need to cure their cancer or tell them some amazing story that will cheer them up indefinitely or give them an inspirational speech. They need someone to hear them, to listen, and to acknowledge that what they are going through is really hard.  Book contains a fair bit about speaking to people who are dealing with bereavement or dementia in their loved ones, nil on learning disabilities.

People want to be seen and heard. They want to know that they are not crazy and that the emotions they feel are normal and justified. They want to know that other people want to see them do well and that others care about their outcomes. They want to feel connected to other people and energetically supported.

It’s amazing how many things we can handle when we choose to flow through them instead of resisting them and holding onto the need to “be right.”  Remember, you don’t always have to respond to people, give your opinion, or let others know when you disagree with them. Letting someone say what is on their mind and then turning the conversation to a new topic is a beautiful skill set.

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