It’s probably impossible to go through life without having a difficult conversation. Telling your spouse you want a divorce, coming out to your parents, quitting your job, or firing an employee are some obvious examples. Whatever the subject matter, a difficult conversation is — well — difficult. These five steps might help.

Step 1: Preparation. Start by thinking about what happened. Where does this situation originate, with you or with the person you’re planning on telling? What’s at stake for you in having this conversation? How are you feeling?

Step 2: Purpose. What do you hope to accomplish by having this conversation? Is this the best way to achieve it? What happens if you avoid the issue?

Step 3: Presentation. Present your story in as neutral a fashion as possible. Share your purpose in having this conversation and share your goal.

Step 4: Listen. Allow equal time to hear and, more importantly, to understand the other person’s viewpoint. Ask questions to clarify, and don’t forget to acknowledge emotions. If accusations and blame start to interfere, think about how you would feel if the situation was reversed.

Step 5: Solution. If you’ve gotten to this point in your difficult conversation, congratulations! You are now ready to brainstorm options and invite proposals moving forward.

Let’s apply these five steps to an imaginary situation. You own a rental unit, and your tenant has violated the terms of the lease one too many times.  Your first instinct is to evict her.  Yet if you do, you might be looking at a protracted legal process, costing you time and money.  And then, you run the risk that she will damage the property before moving out, which will cost you more time and money.  So instead of evicting her, you’ve decided to give her one more chance.  It’s not an easy conversation.

Step 1: Prepare for the talk by thinking about what you’re going to say, and when.

Step 2: Understand your purpose in having this conversation. Are you merely prolonging the inevitable, or do you see some potential for improvement?

Step 3: Present the situation to your tenant calmly and as neutrally as possible. Cite specific examples of how she’s in violation of the lease, and then explain what you hope to achieve by having this conversation.

Step 4: Ask for her input. Maybe she has an underlying reason for her actions.  Maybe she’s been distracted by family issues. Be sure she knows that you see her as a person, not as an implement. (It’s called empathy, by the way, and it’s a wonderful thing to have.)

Step 5: Now you’re both ready to fix the problem. Ask her if she has any suggestions for resolution.  And ask what she would do if she were in your shoes. 

This is just a hypothetical example of a difficult conversation. They’re not easy to have, but they also don’t have to be quite so difficult if you do some of the work in advance. 

Perhaps hiring a Property Manager would be a good idea. Or maybe a Mediator?