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Why Conversations Go Wrong and How to Fix Them

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Asking a boss for a promotion, talking through a major relationship issue, or telling your super self-involved friend that you’re feeling a little neglected. Feel a little shiver of dread even thinking about these interactions? That’s normal, says Rob Kendall, author of the new book Blamestorming: Why Conversations Go Wrong and How to Fix Them. Even the trickiest convos can happen with minimal drama—and just a few simple tweaks can lead to major results. Here, four easy tactics to use in any talk.

Do It Face to Face
Yes, email is easier than actually meeting in person, but it’s also the easiest way to create a major misunderstanding, warns Kendall. If you’re pretty sure the topic is going to be contentious—or even just complicated—stick to in-person conversations, where tone, body language, and facial expressions can all help convey exactly what you mean.

Figure Out the Time and Place
For tricky convos, a little legwork can go a long way in securing the results you want. Talking to your supervisor about a promotion? Take a few weeks to suss out her schedule. Does she get to the office early or prefer to stay until other people have left? Is she in a good mood before or after lunch? When is she on her toes because her supervisor needs her for a talk? By getting a sense of her rhythms, you can then schedule a meeting for one of the time blocks when she’s likely to be more receptive to your ask, says Kendall. And the same goes for your guy, your friends, or your mom. If you know someone isn’t a night owl, don’t call that person after nine if you have something major to discuss.

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Call Time Out Every So Often
“Even when you start a conversation with the best of intentions, things can go wrong,” warns Kendall. But instead of viewing the discussion as a complete failure, Kendall advocates calling a time out when you sense that your—or your conversation partner’s—emotions are rising. “Taking a five minute break removes you both from the heat of the conversation, and can give you the time to consider where the other person may be coming from,” says Kendall.

Start the Right Way
Of course you’re annoyed at your flaky friend for always cancelling last minute, but begin the conversation by telling her how much fun you have when you get together, or bring up a recent example of a time she didn’t flake. Then, explain how you feel when she does flake, and ask if there’s anything you can do to make sure it doesn’t happen. “When you start with the negative, the other person will immediately go on the defensive, and will be less likely to actually hear your concerns,” explains Kendall.

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