4 FISH! Philosophy Tips for Tough Conversations

Published On: June 21, 2023Categories: Blog

Difficult conversations are part and parcel of any professional job, much as we may not want to admit it. It’s comforting to think that if we put our heads down and focus on our own job, we can do great work without dealing with confrontation, but this is rarely the case.

From managers needing to deal with performance issues, to team members collaborating to find solutions to tough problems, to officemates navigating interpersonal conflicts, we all find ourselves having difficult conversations in the workplace at some point or another.

It’s also easy to feel like the best way to get through them is to shut down, not talk, or simply avoid them–but this is far from true. When we clam up, issues don’t get resolved, and can often get worse as individuals fill any knowledge gaps with assumptions rather than hearing the facts straight from the other person.

To help you navigate tricky conversations, here are 4 FISH! Philosophy tips that will help build and strengthen relationships through talking, rather than letting these nagging issues fester.

Be There by setting aside your assumptions

Every one of us brings assumptions into every conversation we enter, whether we know it or not. Sometimes these are harmless, but especially when conversations cover a tough subject or are emotionally loaded, these assumptions can hold us back from talking productively.

For example, when you’re upset about something someone else did, it’s common to assume their intentions. If the other person is being annoying, combative, or obstructive, it’s easy to internalize the assumption that they’re doing so intentionally, which means the conversation will start from an adversarial–rather than collaborative–relationship.

Be There is a skill about mindfulness and being present in the moment. When we practice Being There, we can also practice setting aside these assumptions that cause us to become emotionally activated, and focus instead on the conversation as it’s happening in front of us–assuming good faith, good intentions, and honest communication.

Play with new ideas by practicing curiosity

Even when we do manage to set aside these combative emotions, difficult talks will often by nature mean engaging with ideas we disagree with or simply haven’t considered. You may think you’re obviously in the right, but if it were that self-evident, you probably wouldn’t be needing to talk with someone who disagrees, right?

When we talk about the skill of Play in the FISH! Philosophy, we aren’t talking about tossing a ball back and forth (although that can be fun too!). Rather, we’re talking about holding space and intentionally keeping our minds open to new or contrary ideas. When we Play with ideas by keeping an open mind and genuinely considering alternative viewpoints, we can come to solutions we had never considered–or at least affirm that we’ve explored all the options and come to a logical solution on how to move forward together having listened in good faith to the other person’s considerations.

Make Their Day by validating their emotions and perspective

Often, when someone comes to us to talk with heightened emotions and strong feelings, they aren’t necessarily looking for a logical solution. Instead, what they’re really looking for is to be heard and feel acknowledged.

Now, we do want to reach a solution for these problems eventually, but jumping straight into problem-solving mode when the other person might still be in a state of high emotions can be more counter-productive than you might think.

So instead of getting into potential solutions to problems right off the bat, start a conversation by really listening to what the other person has to say. Work to take in their feelings, their ideas, and their issues, even when it doesn’t always make sense to you–because whatever they’re feeling, you can at least understand that those thoughts in the moment are genuinely held.

Once you’ve listened, now’s the time to Make Their Day by affirming their perspective and validating their emotions. “That’s an idea I hadn’t thought of before–can we talk about that more and see if it’ll work?,” “Yeah, if my boss ignored all my ideas I’d feel frustrated too!,” and “Wow, I hadn’t considered that–it sounds important to you and I’ll make sure to think about it going forward” are all examples of the sorts of affirmative and validating statements that can go a long way towards resolving a tough conversation effectively.

Choose Your Attitude by defining your conversation goals 

Because this is really what you want at the end of the day, right? If you’re having a difficult talk, you want to come out of it with a sense of progression or resolution that makes both parties happy, yeah?

Well, the first key to an effective resolution is knowing what an effective resolution would look like. If you’re anticipating a tough talk with someone, your first step should be to determine what your goals are–what do you want to get out of the conversation, what does an effective resolution to the problem look like, and how can you achieve this?

Once we have a goal in mind, you can Choose Your Attitude to orient yourself towards that goal every step of the way. You can prepare ahead by identifying potential emotional buttons your conversation partner might try to push, examining how you’ve reacted to those triggers in the past (and how to avoid them), and outline (but not script!) your conversation.

This helps you stay focused, avoid getting bogged down by heightened emotional conflict, and move the conversation forward towards a productive end for everyone involved. And when we can have conversations like this, we can not just avoid conflict, but work to strengthen those very relationships that might otherwise cause us trouble.

Ideas to Reflect On:

  • Do you engage with difficult conversations, or avoid them? If the latter, how can you open yourself up to having hard talks when necessary?
  • What are some things people do or say that can provoke big emotional responses from you? How can you prepare ahead to minimize these reactions?
  • When someone is engaging with you on a difficult topic, do you make space to validate their feelings and ideas, or do you “stick to your guns” no matter what? If the latter, how can we structure less-adversarial conversations?

Whether you work in business, education, or healthcare, FISH! offers accessible, intuitive solutions to empower your workers, bring your team together, and avoid the symptoms of impending burnout. We invite you to contact us today at 800.695.4534 or info@charthouse.com to speak with our cultural specialists, who will help you find the right FISH! Philosophy solutions that will nurture your organizational culture and motivate your team!

Want to Implement FISH! in your organization?

Are you a leader?  Do you train others?  Do you want others to be leaders?

Charthouse Learning, the creator of the world-famous, award-winning, FISH! film is offering an in-person, 2-day workshop, interactive Train-the-Trainer lead by our Senior Trainer.

During our time together you’ll learn how to:

  • Share the motivation and foundation of FISH!
  • Introduce the FISH! film with the four practices.
  • Present the invitation to apply the practices in everyday interaction with others.
  • Build a sustainability and reinforcement program to transform the culture.
  • Pick up tips from other FISH! Philosophers and develop a strategy to embed the practices into the DNA of your culture.
  • Create an energized organization that is the “first choice” for employees, faculty, staff, leaders, and customers.

Plus, you will learn how to create a workplace where people choose to “be and bring” their best self everywhere, every day.

At the FISH! Train the Trainer you will:

  • Dive Deep: Discover The FISH! Philosophy – full of “A-ha!” takeaways and perspective-shifting realizations.
  • Transform: Make the four FISH! practices – Play, Be There, Make Their Day and Choose Your Attitude – an essential part of your professional and personal skill set.
  • Discover: Learn practical ways to apply the FISH! practices to improve teamwork, service, leadership, retention and performance.
  • Develop: Brainstorm strategies to embed The FISH! Philosophy into the DNA of your culture, strengthening your mission, vision and values.
  • Collaborate: Learn and laugh with like-minded folks from across the globe.

Click Here for More FISH! Train the Trainer Information

FISH! Executive Briefing

You have probably heard about the Culture Shift in the news. Organizations are struggling to find talent, employee morale is low, retention is a common goal and customers are dissatisfied with buying experiences.

These are all symptoms of an underlying challenge leadership is faced with every day, regardless of the industry. You can look for temporary relief or an overall, long-term cure.

Join us for a 60-minute webinar on the world-famous, award-winning FISH! practices.

Click Here for More FISH! Executive Briefing Information


Whether you work in business, education, or healthcare, FISH! offers accessible, intuitive solutions to empower your workers, bring your team together, and introduce Play into your organization. We invite you to contact us today at 800.695.4534 or info@charthouse.com to speak with our cultural specialists, who will help you find the right FISH! Philosophy solutions that will nurture your organizational culture and motivate your team!

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