Situation: An acquaintance is in town and wants to meet. You'd rather gnaw off your left arm than devote any time to her right now, but don't want to end the relationship. How do you beg off?
What to Say: Don't lie. The moment you do and say you'll be at x, y, or z, you know you'll run into the person at q. Offer a blanket response rather than a specific scheduling conflict.
  • "This is a terribly busy time for me. I'm saying no to everything right now. Why don't I give you a call when I'm more free?" — Judith Martin, a.k.a. Miss Manners
  • "I'm so wiped out that I know I would just be a drag on you." — Barry Winbolt, psychotherapist and the author of Difficult People

Situation: Someone you never want to see again keeps asking to meet up. What can you say, as kindly as possible, to ensure that you will never hear from him or her again?
What to Say: Here you want to be very clear; a little discomfort now will spare you both the pain of more calls later.
  • "I've enjoyed our friendship, but I just can't make it a priority going forward." — Joseph Grenny, coauthor of Crucial Conversations
  • "You and I have really different expectations for this friendship." — Douglas Stone, coauthor of Difficult Conversations
You'll probably need to back up each of these statements with specific reasons, such as "You always want to talk about your problems, but you never ask about mine" or "We don't really have anything in common anymore" or simply, "We should save each other the disappointment."

Situation: The dishes are piling up in the sink; the sales report is overdue; nobody has taken out the recycling in weeks; or you're working overtime to make up for other slackers. How can you get a housemate or coworker to start pulling his weight?
What to Say: The first thing to do is some research: Identify exactly what the person was supposed to do and what he has actually done. Then present your findings in terms of a busted contract.
  • "Look, when we started, we agreed that you would do x, y, and z. It seems to me that x isn't getting done. What's happened?" — Joseph Grenny, coauthor of Crucial Conversations
Issue a reminder emphasizing that you're on his side: "Is there anything you need to get the job done?" — Barry Winbolt, psychotherapist and the author of Difficult People
  • If the lazy person's work winds up falling to you and all else fails, issue a simple, firm refusal: "You've left me with a task to do and, I'm sorry, I just can't do it. If that's a problem, you're going to have to take it up with the boss." — Judith Martin, a.k.a. Miss Manners

Situation: How do you deliver bad news—death, firing, breakup, arrest—as painlessly as possible?
What to Say: Here's the thing: Everybody wishes there were some magic words that would make bad news somehow less bad. There aren't. Our experts say the best you can do is be honest, to the point, and sympathetic. One line of warning helps; try saying "There's something upsetting that I need to tell you." — Douglas Stone, coauthor of Difficult Conversations 

Communication 101
Dr. Phil's 6 rules of talking and listening
How to get what you want from anyone
3-step plan that takes the fear (and the fight) out of confrontations


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