Initiating a difficult conversation with someone is never easy.  However, it still may need to be done.  To ease your nerves, and the possibility of it taking a sour turn, use the following guidance to plan ahead.

The OpeningState your reason or purpose for having the conversation and that you realize they have their own perspective and you want to hear it.  Such as:“I have received some information and I’d like to share it with you.  It is a bit of a sensitive conversation – but I think it will help a great deal if we can talk about it.” Or,“We work closely together, and it’s important to me that we have a relationship based on honesty and respect. I’d like to talk with you about something that has the potential of getting in the way.”  Or,“I wanted to talk to you about what happened in the meeting this morning. I was upset by something you said.  I wanted to explain what was bothering me, and also hear your perspective on the situation.”

State the FactsState the facts without exaggeration. Be accurate, impartial, direct, kind and honest.  For example,“I don’t know whether you intended this, but [Bill] felt extremely uncomfortable when …. ““The person conveyed to me that in the meeting you said…”“It was told to me that…”“Mike, I noticed that you….”

Invite their StoryListen with genuine curiosity to learn and ask open-ended questions.  For instance,“What was your experience?”“Can you tell me more about your perspective?”“How do you see things?”“Can you talk a little more about that?”“Say more about why this is important to you.”

Summarize What You HeardBriefly restate their core themes.“It sounds as if your main concerns are…”

Ask for What You WantState what you want in the future, and be specific. To soften a request “I wonder if it would make sense….?”

Conclude by Discussing the Next Steps and Thanking Them for Participating

A general term used to describe one person injuring or trying to injure another by communicating to them that their opinions and emotions are invalid, selfish, uncaring, stupid, and/or wrong. An invalidation can range anywhere from direct hurtful remark to a “tsk, tsk.”  A rolling of the eyes can be an invalidation, and so can being verbally abusive.  It’s usually the sneaky mental invalidations that cause the most damage because they may go unnoticed while it injures and manipulates the victim.  It is the opposite of feeling validated.


The most important thing to look for is how you feel over a certain period of time when you are with this person.  You find yourself feeling bad around them without knowing why.  You may notice that the people who are connected to this person are not in the best condition, while this person seems just fine.  Most of us use invalidation from time-to-time.  It doesn’t make us bad people but we do need to recognize when we use it and when it’s being used on us.

When someone uses invalidation, they may:

Use suppressive mechanisms to chip away at your self-esteem. Pretend to acknowledge something you’re proud of, then later makes a negative insinuation about it. Find out your shortcomings, then exploits them at times you feel vulnerable. Listen to you share something you don’t like about yourself and then use it against you later. Slip into the behavior unconsciously, reacting to subtle and sometimes unnoticed cues in the environment. Be short on empathy or uncomfortable with your pain. Use it as smoke and mirrors to divert the attention from their flaws in logic, character and behavior. “Looks what’s wrong with you.”

You may be experiencing invalidation when you approach a conversation with someone to improve a relationship or work on a problem only to find yourself on the defensive, feeling lost, confused, scared and with no resolution in sight.


The person invalidating others usually feels inferior to other people, so they try to make the other person feel small.  Thus the invalidator can control the target.  Anytime someone who invalidates feels out of control, they will be scared and strive to regain that control.  Invalidation can be particularly nasty when used by people in power.


When we experience invalidation we defend ourselves through either withdrawal or counter-attack. Repeated withdrawal, though, tends to decrease our self-confidence and leads to a sense of powerlessness and depression.  However, counter-attacks often escalate the conflict. 

The biggest cure for invalidation is achieved when you simply spot it.  There are no simple roadmaps for how to handle someone invalidating you.  If you feel this is happening to you, talking with the ombuds may help you to figure out how to handle it your own way.


Workplace bullying is deliberate, disrespectful and repeated behavior toward another individual (the target) in the workplace. Most commonly these repeated acts of workplace aggression are passive, indirect, and nonphysical. What these acts have in common is that they harm both the targeted individual and the organization.


Targets are usually independent, talented, empathetic, fair-minded, and well-liked people. Targets usually have a high-tolerance for difficult situations and do not play political games. Therefore, targets are caught off guard by the bully's tactics and are often in denial about the bully's motives.


Generally, bullying is rooted in envy and deliberately designed to suppress and control the target. Bullies are workplace politicians and do not usually torment everyone. A bully can be the target's boss, peer, or subordinate.


Bullying can be direct and aggressive, but most commonly bullying behavior is passive, indirect, and nonphysical. Top bullying tactics are:

Exclusion from meeting or information, "icing out" or use of the "silent treatment" Insults and put-downs, directly or through innuendos, implications, and "jokes" Unfairly blaming for errors Unreasonable job demands Criticism of ability, directly or indirectly Threatening job loss Discounting/ denial of accomplishments Yelling, screaming Stealing credit Lack of clarity in tasks, expectation or job related details. WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS?

Workplace bullying negatively affects the organization, the target and employee bystanders who observe this hostile treatment. A targeted individual begins to question his or her competency because of the bully's deliberate attacks and will likely dread going to work. This lowers the targets ability to perform at his or her highest potential. A targeted individual may also experience harm to his or her health and social lives through anxiety, stress, depression, and related illnesses as a result of the bully's actions.

The organization will likely suffer from lower productivity and decreased employee morale from either receiving or observing the disrespectful behavior. It destroys creativity and increases employee turnover.


Action is the antidote. Once bullying starts it is likely to continue unless something is done to stop it.

Realize that what is occurring is not logical or deserved; you are the target of a bully. Educate yourself on bullying, protect your health and keep a log of what is happening. Remember, you did not cause this mistreatment. Seek support from family, friends and therapists who are empathetic and good listeners. Also, contact the faculty and staff ombudsperson to help you confidentially evaluate your options.


Workplace Bullying Institute,

Bully Free at Work,

Healthy WorkplaceBill,

Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Bill,

Namie, G. & Namie, R. (2009). "The Bully at Work: What You Can Do to Stop the Hurt and Reclaim Your Dignity on the Job." Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, Inc.

Namie, G. & Namie, R. (2011). "The Bully-Free Workplace: Stop Jerks, Weasels, and Snakes from Killing Your Organization." Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

HARD CONVERSATION: OPENING LINES I wanted to talk to you about what happened in the meeting this morning. I was upset by something you said. I wanted to explain what was bothering me, and also hear your perspective on the situation. I wonder if it would make sense…? I wonder how you see it? I don’t know whether you intended this, but I felt extremely uncomfortable when... I’m anxious about bringing this up, but at the same time, it’s important to me that we talk about it... OPEN-ENDED QUESTIONS

Can you say a little more about how you see things?

What information might you have that I don’t?

How do you see it differently?

What impact have my actions had on you?

Can you say a little more about why you think this is my fault?

Were you reacting to something I did?

How are you feeling about all of this?

Say more about why this is important to you.


For me, what this is really about is…

What I’m feeling is…

What is important to me is…


I understand.

I see.


What I hear you saying is…

That sounds like a put down to me. (dealing with sarcasm)

That seems harsh. (dealing with sarcasm)

I’d like to hear your point after I finish mine. (dealing with being interrupted)

That’s interesting. Tell me more.


Does anyone else feel this way?

Body language is a process of receiving and decoding nonverbal communication that is often done without our conscious awareness. It consists of silent signals that tend to reveal underlying motives and emotions. The tiniest gestures, like the way someone stands or enters a room, often speak volumes about someone's confidence, self-worth and credibility.

Body Language: What It Says About You and How to Use It (PowerPoint)