From Conflict to Collaboration: Strategies for Successful Tough Discussions

Workplace conflict and difficult conversations are inevitable and can be challenging and emotionally draining. However, if you prepare in advance and equip yourself with coping strategies, you can improve how you interact with others on your team and have successful tough discussions. In this blog,  learn to navigate workplace conflicts with LARA (Standford Sparq) framework & productive strategies that help you have more productive conversations. You can have constructive discussions by pausing and reflecting, focusing on critical interpersonal skills, and approaching the meeting positively.


From Conflict to Collaboration: Strategies for Successful Tough Discussions

What is the LARA Method?

This is a method for managing tough talks created by Stanford SPARQ

Listen very carefully

Affirm a feeling or value you share with the speaker.

Respond directly to the concerns or questions the speaker has raised. 

Ask questions or add information. 


Phase 1: Preparation:

“Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation, there is sure to be a failure.” – Confucius  

Preparing for Difficult Conversations: Self-Assessment Toolkit

Before entering a difficult conversation, assessing your emotions, thoughts, and goals is crucial. Reflect and ask yourself the following questions to gain clarity and prepare yourself effectively:

Goals and Priorities

  1. What are my goals and priorities for this conversation?
  2. Do I know what I want from this interaction?

Emotional Intelligence

  1. How am I feeling?
  2. How might the other person be feeling?
  3. How might I be influencing the other person?
  4. What are potential emotions that may arise during the conversation?
  5. What emotional reactions could hinder my being interpersonally effective?


  1. How do I think about the situation?
  2. What assumptions have I made?
  3. What is it about the situation that is problematic for me?


  1. What values can I hold in mind during my interaction?
  2. How do I want to show up for this conversation?
  3. How do I want to feel about myself when the conversation ends?
  4. How do I want the other person to perceive me based on how I handle the interaction, regardless of the outcome?


  1. What must I do to prepare for the conversation?

Worst Case Scenario

  1. What is the worst-case scenario related to the conversation?

Phase 2: “What” Skills: Develop, Strengthen, and Master Essential Skills

Choose Right Moment

  1. Establish a  mutually convenient time for the conversation.

Emotional Intelligence and Mastery

  1. Stay composed, take deep breaths, avoid reactive behaviors, and choose productive responses that align with your values and professional goals.
  2. Cultivate the ability to empathize and relate to the emotions and perspectives of others.

Fact-Based Conversation

  1. Begin the conversation by sticking with the facts versus making assumptions.

Express Your Perspective

  1. Share your subjective understanding of the situation.
  2. Use “I’ statements.
  3. Approach conversation in a gentle and easy manner. 
  4. Be fair and candid, and behave in accordance with your values.
  5. Avoid attacks, threats, or judgments that may escalate tensions.

Ask Others’ Perspectives

  1. What is your perspective?
  2.  What has that been like for you?
  3.  Can you say more about….?

Phase 3: “How” Skills: Develop, Strengthen, and Master Essential Skills

Visualize Successful Conversation

  1. Imagine the conversation going and ending well.
  2. Adopt an optimistic mindset.

Inquire with Curiosity About Others’ Perspectives

  1. Use reflective questioning to deepen the conversation.
  2. Ask open-ended questions like “How do you see it?” “What are your thoughts?”
  3. Avoid “Why” questions, which puts the person on the defensive.  

Adopt Exploratory Versus Certain Mindset

  1. Remain open, flexible to new possibilities, and willing to explore various perspectives.
  2. Avoid fixed and rigid perspectives, leaving little room for alternative perspectives.
  3. Phrases like “It seems to me that…” and “It makes me wonder if…” can convey a tentative and exploratory mindset.

Prioritize Effectiveness Versus Being Right and Certain

  1. Shift the focus from proving yourself right to understanding the underlying interests and needs of the other person.
  2. Avoid being defensive.
  3. Find common ground.

Invite Divergent Perspectives

  1. Encourage diverse viewpoints by asking open-ended questions.
  2. Phrases like “That’s how it seemed to me.” “Am I wrong about that?” “Do you see it differently?” creates an environment that values different opinions.


Engaging in difficult conversations is a skill that can be developed and strengthened. It takes practice and preparation. First, it begins with a self-reflective self-assessment, honing essential communication skills, and adopting a mindset of openness and effectiveness. Of note, the goal is not always about being “right” but fostering understanding, finding common ground, and working toward conflict resolution. 


Source: Standford Sparq Tools

Recommended Reading:

Detert, J. R. (2021.). Words and Phrases to Avoid in a Difficult Conversation. Harvard Business Review.

David, S. (2017). Should You Share Your Feelings During a Work Conflict? 


Meet Jodie, your Culture & Transformation Captain. With over twenty years helping people change, facilitating team discussions, building cultures, designing, implementing and teaching classes, your organization is in good hands.