Product Managers Can Use These Techniques To Master Difficult Work Conversations - Deepstash

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A person’s success in life can be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.



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Managing difficult conversations

Managing difficult conversations

As a Product Manager, you are likely to face many difficult conversations, for example, stopping work that fails to align with top priorities, giving feedback, negotiating roadmaps, and apologising when you took your eye off the ball.

Mastering difficult conversations can give you superpowers. You can get the confidence to promote new product ideas, drive organisational changes, and lead your group.


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Three layers of difficult conversations

Three layers of difficult conversations

  • The "What happened" layer. What's the story here?
  • The Feelings layer is uncovering how you really feel.
  • The Identify layer ask what does this say about me?


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The "What happened" Layer

Conversations fall apart when we say, "I am right, and you are wrong." This is because we have more information about ourselves than we have about the other person. We know our intent, but we judge their intent based on their action. We also base our deduction on what suits our pre-conceived ideas.

How to overcome this limitation:

  • Use the "And" stance, meaning acknowledging that both stories can be right.
  • Disentangle the impact of the action from the original intent.
  • Map the contribution system. Each party can acknowledge that one of their actions contributed to the case.


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The Feelings Layer

The Feelings Layer

Feelings are at the centre of a difficult conversation. Ignoring emotions can cause resentment, anger, and broken relationships.

There are three steps to expressing feelings in difficult conversations.

  • Get better at uncovering your feelings. Reframe feelings to something you experience, not who you are. You are not angry, you are experiencing anger. Question what is behind the emotion.
  • Realise that you can negotiate with your feelings. Your feelings are caused by what you're thinking. 
  • Describe your feelings to your colleague without venting. "I felt that my opinions were not paid attention to."


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The Identity Layer

The Identity Layer

In the identity conversation, you start to worry about what the conversation says about you.

Three core identity-related questions we think about:

  • Am I competent?
  • Am I a good person?
  • Am I worthy of love?

You are more likely to lose balance if there is a gap between what you believe to be true and what you fear to be accurate.

To regain balance:

  • Use the 10/10/10 framework. Ask yourself: Will this matter in ten minutes? Ten months? Ten years?
  • Get help from a therapist, coach or a friend.


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Mastering difficult conversations

1.  Start from the third-person perspective.

It helps you create distance to have a broader point of view and to express yourself more objectively.

2.  Listen more intently

Use the SOAR framework

  • Make Space
  • Observe and validate
  • Ask
  • Repeat and confirm

3.  Speak for yourself with clarity

Most people prefer to be with people who speak their mind. We trust them and feel confident in them. Assertively state your story without aggression or getting defensive.


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"In fact, the confidence of the people is worth more than money." ~ Carter G. Woodson


Navigating difficult conversations is a skill that gives you Product Management superpowers. It can help you influence, negotiate and lead effectively.

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