Our Products : Navigating Difficult Conversations

This one-day workshop teaches skills and guidelines for conversations that generate real collaboration. Instead of defending and promoting, conversations that work emphasize stepping outside your truth and inquiring into the stories and experiences behind the other opinion. With more clarity about how the 'wrong' idea actually makes some sense, respect and appreciation grow. This is the essential groundwork for an open and full exchange of ideas, the heart of true collaboration.

The workshop is conducted by Jay K. Cherney, Ph.D. and Jack Lerner

We all have relationships that aggravate, irritate and bring out our worst. We try to stay calm and get our point across, but we keep feeling attacked, defensive and stuck. Work progress stalls. Demoralization can ripple through teams and even whole organizations.

We often think, "If I could just get them to stop being so___, things would be fine". Yet no matter how hard we wish, we can't directly change other people. Actually, trying to change them usually backfires. So to create leverage for real progress in difficult relationships it's important to shift your focus from them to you. Examining and changing your input begins to dislodge the broken record of unproductive exchanges and opens new possibilities.

Here are some actions and attitudes that turn difficult relationships into productive partnerships.


Our knee-jerk impulse when we're criticized is to blame right back. We tell ourselves stories about the other's permanent traits: "Control freak! selfish! arrogant! that's just how they are." Such labeling blocks our vision of new options and invites the other to label you. The attack and defend cycle can harden into a self-defeating relationship, where your input sparks the very behavior you wish to extinguish. Stepping outside your automatic label allows you to see new perspectives and pathways.


Insisting your reality is the only sensible one keeps relationships stuck. Assume their position somehow makes sense and be curious about why they see things as they do. If someone comes at you with, "Your report was really disorganized" your first reaction might be to attack back: "You don't know what you're talking about!" Shifting to an open, inquiring stance disarms criticism and deescalates tension: "I'm really surprised to hear that can you show me how you think it needs work?" When you validate the other person (not easy when you're steamed), you create a climate for a more open and useful exchange of viewpoints.


When we act in the heat of emotion, we often end up with regrets. Slow down! Then tune into the source of the emotions-not the other's behavior but the story you're telling yourself about the meaning of the difficulty. Instead of thinking, "They're just trying to create obstacles", consider a range of other possible motives, like, "They're really overwhelmed", or "They're actually trying to be helpful, but they don't have the same information I have". Developing alternative explanations in your inner dialogue allows calmer approaches that serve both of you-and your common purpose.


We all have preferred styles for accomplishing tasks. Behavior you find annoying and obstructing may simply be another person's most comfortable way of working-different from yours, but no less valuable. We all want to be validated and recognized for the unique ways we add value to our team and organization. When you identify your style and begin to see the world through the other's lens, you find common ground.


  • Pre-workshop questionnaire for orientation and customization
  • Brief Lectures
  • Small Group Interviews and Discussion
  • Style Analysis: Strength Deployment Inventory
  • Video and Role Play Exercises

Participants receive a workbook that includes additional reading and resources. Also included with the program package is follow-up telephone coaching to reinforce and deepen participants' front line application of the learning.

About the developers: Jay K. Cherney, Ph.D. and Ira Asherman

Jay K. Cherney is a psychologist, organization consultant and mediator. He has developed training programs and been a keynote speaker on resilience and conflict management. Jay is a mediator for the U.S. Postal Service and an organization development consultant with the Management Institute of Rowan University. He is also a co-owner of Appreciative Inquiry Consulting, an international network of consultants practicing appreciative inquiry, a cutting-edge approach to organization improvement.

For complete information, call sandy or Ira at: 212.243.0782.

Please contact
Asherman Associates

to schedule this program at your site.

Client Quotes:

"I realized it is not the conversation that is difficult; it is just that I wasn't using the right tools in order to do it. It doesn't have to be difficult."

"Excellent trainers! Easy to understand and set the tone of the course quite well. And they provided great feedback."

"The role playing was extremely effective in trying to apply the tools that we learned during class."