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conversation with ghosts

Have the Important Conversation: Stop Having Imaginary Arguments with Ghosts!

Have you ever avoided that conversation?

You know the one.

When my clients bring it up, it often sounds like:

“This has been on my mind for some time. It really annoys me when they act that way. I don’t think they see the impact they are causing. Everyone notices, but no one is saying anything. We have been tolerating the situation for too long now. “

“I know it will be a tough conversation. This is how it’ll go:

I’ll bring it up.

They will get defensive and blame everything and everyone else.

Then they’ll take out their frustration on me!

I will try my best, but I’ll get sucked into their arguing.

It’s not going to go well.

It will probably make things worse.”

We have all avoided that conversation before.

So, let’s look at why.

The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.

James A. Garfield

We avoid these conversations because we’re afraid of them!

  • We fear vulnerability.
  • We’re afraid we will upset the other person.
  • We’re afraid there will be conflict.
  • We’re afraid we might share something personal, and we find power in being impersonal.
  • We fear uncertainty. We don’t know where the conversation will go. The conversation path and outcome is uncertain.
  • We’re afraid we will do it wrong and then we will have regrets over how we handled it.

So instead of having the real conversation…we opt to do something which seems less scary.

We have imaginary conversations instead.

We have the audacity to imagine exactly how they will react and what they will say. We imagine entire conversations. They are guilty of their words before they have had a chance to say them!

We might as well be having a conversation with a ghost!

Conversations with ghosts

When it comes to challenging conversations, we tend to do 2 things.

1. We envision future challenging conversations.

This takes the form of rehearsing an impending conversation in our heads. We imagine what we might say, how the other person might respond, and how we’ll react to each other.

When used appropriately, this can be a way to prepare ourselves for a challenging conversation. The problem is when we replay them over and over until we almost actually believe the imagined conversation will become the real conversation.

2. We replay past challenging conversations.

Similar to rehearsing a future conversation, in this case we replay past challenging conversations. We ruminate on what they said, perhaps wondering what they meant when they said THAT. Or imagining how the conversation might have gone better if we’d said something different.

This too, can be useful as a learning exercise when we review with the intention of improving our future actions. Reflecting on a past conversation is unproductive when our inner critic is running the show with self-defeating “should have” messaging.

The outcome is often that we avoid, delay, or simply don’t have the actual conversation required to move us forward.

So, let’s break this pattern of avoidance with a new action plan for having the conversation.

Recipe for a Successful High Impact Conversation: 3 Steps & 10 Ingredients

Step 1. Become Self-Aware

What do you want from this conversation? What do you want for them? What do you want for others?

Clarify your objectives: what do you want?

One way to approach this is to ask yourself “What would be the best outcome of this conversation?”

Are you seeking a solution, understanding, or offering guidance? Knowing this will help steer the discussion in the desired direction.

Clarify your own thinking.

What do you plan to say? Have a clear roadmap of your thoughts to ensure a smooth and coherent conversation.

Will you accept their view and actions? Demonstrating openness to diverse perspectives fosters trust.

Consider the emotions you will need for this conversation.

Being aware of and managing your emotions is crucial. What emotions will (and will not) serve in this conversation?

Emotions like anger or impatience can get in the way of productive dialogue. What might happen if you showed up with empathy and patience?

Consider your physical presence.

Your body language and physical demeanor play an important role. Maintain eye contact, have an open posture, and reflect an attitude of genuine interest and concern.

Step 2. Imagine Being the Other Person

A good conversation requires active listening and an open mind – try to put yourself in the shoes of the other person. View the situation from their perspective using the angles of past, present, and future.


What is this person bringing to the conversation? This includes their personality, interests, and experience. Acknowledging and valuing these will help you understand their perspective.

Recent events can also heavily influence someone’s emotional state and perspectives. Are you aware of anything happening in their work or life that could impact your conversation?


How might they react in the conversation? How will they best receive feedback? Everyone processes information differently. (The enneagram can help here!)

Predict potential reactions and adapt your approach accordingly.


What motivates them? How will you encourage change?

Understand their aspirations, and tailor your conversation to align with their objectives.

Step 3. Create the Right Environment

Extend an invitation that creates the desired mood for focused attention.

The foundation of any impactful conversation is mutual respect and attentiveness. Extend an invitation that makes it clear you value the other person’s perspective.

This helps to set a mood conducive to listening and understanding.

Ensure there is sufficient time.

The quality of your conversation is directly proportional to the time invested. Avoid rushing. Instead, set aside an appropriate amount of time to delve deep into the subject.

Move to the right space.

The setting plays a pivotal role in the success of any conversation. Opt for a calm, distraction-free environment that promotes openness and connection.

High-impact conversations are the cornerstone of leadership.

When leading teams, the quality of your conversations determines your success.

This is worth repeating. The quality of your conversations determines your success.

Crafting a high-impact conversation requires careful attention to detail, genuine concern for the other party, and a deep understanding of oneself.

Having a successful conversation involves learning how to express your thoughts and feelings in a respectful manner.

Remember that not all conversations will have a resolution, but it’s important to focus on understanding each other’s perspectives rather than winning an argument.

“Would you rather be right and ‘win’ the argument, or would you rather be in good relationship?”

As a leader, mastering these ingredients will not only elevate your communication skills but also strengthen team cohesion.

Ready to stop arguing with ghosts and get some help improving your conversations and leadership capabilities?

Book a call with Coach Ken: Book a Call.

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Ken Roseboom

Ken Roseboom is the President of Thinking Partners. He partners with leaders to increase impact, create aligned teams, and deliver better results. He leverages the Alignment process, assessment tools, expert coaching, and years of front line leadership experience to support his clients.