True, Kind, Necessary (TKN) is a simple tool. In difficult conversations, it’s important to remember to use these ideas together to have the best outcome. In a discussion where we agree, we don’t even have to think about TKN. These conversations are fun; we’re in sync with another persons’ viewpoint. It’s when conversations illuminate differences that we need to be mindful of our intention. Intent and impact are critical. In difficult conversations or situations, we tend to bring our biases, judgments, ego, and opinions into the arena with us. While we may have positive intent, we can end up having a negative impact.

Let’s Break it Down

True: We want to be honest in our interpretation of information and give honest reflection to people. Truthfulness is valuable in communicating our experience. It takes skill to share our truth without telling others how they feel, what their intention was, or judging their behavior as the ‘problem’ issue. Ask yourself some questions: What is the story I am telling myself about this situation? Am I making any assumptions? Do I have enough information or are there other questions I need to understand? Am I exaggerating or escalating the truth?

In no time flat, we can set people up to feel attacked. When that happens, they either tune us out, or we engage them in an argument. Think about this, I am telling you ‘truth’ from my perspective, and if I am unkind in my delivery, or it’s not my place to share my truth, I run a real risk of having a negative impact on you. I may be creating a drama that won’t do me or anyone any good.

Kind: This is the level of how we approach a conversation with compassion and/or empathy. If we are sharing our truth without thought to other people’s experience, we can inadvertently hurt peoples feelings. Intent/Impact. This is especially true in the texting, typing, IM’ing medium. People can’t read our non-verbal body language. We may not even know each other, and we end up responding to things based on how we felt the message was coming at us. The more difficult the situation, people may already be feeling defensive. Kindness is about intention. We can decide if we intend to be helpful or hurtful. Are we having a conversation or are we trying to ‘teach’ someone why they are wrong? If it’s to be useful and our message still lands hard, apologizing for the unintended outcome is kindness too.

Necessary: It may take asking yourself a few questions to figure out this one. Why are you feeling vested in sharing your perspective? What’s your goal for this hard conversation? Are you open to a discussion, or invited to share feedback? Is the conversation a one-way discussion without breath. Or, are you trying to ‘advise’ someone to their ignorance? Is what you’re about to say, for the greater good of the person you are speaking/writing to, for the greater good of the dialog?

I ask myself, “Is what I am about to say, think or do, going to take me one step closer to my goal or one step further away?”

There are times that you need to speak up. Say, you see a way to help someone be more efficient or correct something small before it gets big. Maybe you need to set a healthy boundary for how others speak to or treat you. Expressing what you are or are not willing to do for someone. The more necessary the conversation, often the scarier it runs the risk of feeling. Which is why adding the elements of True and Kind can help the conversation go better for all parties.


In communication, there is another area to consider. Let’s call this the fourth leg of the stool, increasing stability.

Timing: This one is crucial for difficult conversations. Are you calling someone out in public or private? Are you giving them time to respond or pushing for an instant response? Would a face-to-face conversation, even if we are talking Skype versus an email argument or texting war be more effective?

Think about your internal timing; are you hungry, tired, overwhelmed, or not feeling well? All these factors will affect how you bring yourself to any hard conversation. These factors apply to the other person as well, making sure both parties are in the right frame of mind is essential.

Giving yourself time to cool down before responding is helpful too. If I get fired up about something, my brain floods with adrenaline and cortisol and increases my reactivity, while decreasing my ability to think through a situation. Have you ever had an intense conversation and then later think of all the things you wished you had said instead? If I give myself an hour or a day before responding, I have time to engage my thinking brain again, and I may come up with a much better response.

We can all get HiJacked by our brain when we find ourselves in a

difficult conversation.

Even using these tools will not guarantee a 100% positive outcome in every situation. However, your odds increase significantly of having a better conversation.

Your Turn...

I would LOVE to hear from YOU!

  • What do you do to prepare for a difficult conversation?
  • What is your take away from this blog post?

Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

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