A Guide to Difficult Conversations

It’s Friday morning. Everyone else in the office is finishing up projects, filling out timesheets, planning a lunch with coworkers, and looking forward to the weekend. But not you. No, you are anxious and worrisome, staring at the appointment on your calendar scheduled for 2 PM – you’ve got a tough conversation coming up.

Maybe you’re in a management role and you have plans to discipline or even fire an employee. Perhaps you had a disagreement with a coworker and need to squash it. Or maybe you’ve had a tough quarter and have a one-on-one with your boss that you know will be difficult. Tough conversations are part of the workplace and everyday life. Though they are uncomfortable, speaking your mind and communicating needs to others can be incredibly valuable.

So, in order to bust through the anxiety that accompanies these conversations, it’s a good idea to prepare accordingly. Here are some examples of common tough conversations and some great ways to keep the chat on track.


Examples of Tough Conversations 

Tough conversations can come in many forms, especially in the workplace. While conversations should be a two-way street, with both or all parties having the chance to be heard, most discussions will be fairly direct. For example, you might be discussing:


  • Poor overall job performance
  • Issues on a specific project
  • HR issues, such as attendance or workplace ethics
  • Interpersonal issues
  • Disciplinary action, like suspensions or probation
  • Employment termination


Just looking over that list is enough to give anyone a sense of mild panic. However, when you know these discussions are on the horizon, there are some excellent ways to prepare.


Tips for Tough Conversations

At work, it’s rare to be truly blindsided by tough convos. Sure, being fired abruptly does happen, or you may have offended someone in a workplace dispute without even realizing it. But generally, you’ll be able to prepare for the upcoming talk whether you scheduled it or were invited to the conversation.


  1. Identify Your Objective


What do you want to accomplish with this discussion? Are you looking for someone else to take responsibility for their words or actions? Do you want to see a specific behavior change? Do you need to let someone go? Whatever your goal, these talks are best if they’re kept short and sweet, and guided toward a single point. Otherwise, it’s likely to turn into a back-and-forth argument


  1. Plan Ahead


Scheduling a conversation is far superior to surprising someone with a tense discussion in the middle of the workday.You can speak to them about it, but their curiosity or anxiety may lead to questions, and therefore lead you to having the discussion right at that moment. Send an email invite with a brief description. Not only will this help to nail down a time, it also creates documentation in case management or HR needs it for later uses. This also ties back to the idea of identifying an objective, as some conversations like firing someone should happen later in the week, and others such as one-on-ones are better suited for Mondays so that the recipient can apply the feedback to their work immediately.


  1. Center Your Emotions


There’s no space in effective conversations for yelling, crying, or otherwise emotional expressions. You’re already going up against another party who will likely want to argue or at least express their rebuttals. Before beginning a conversation, check in on your emotions and keep them from entering the dialogue. Now, that doesn’t mean speak to them like a robot; empathy and kindness can go a long way, especially when you’re trying to convince someone of a change. However, be aware that these feelings can also make you susceptible to manipulation.


  1. Speak Clearly and Concisely


“I don’t quite know how to say this, so I think I will just drag it out…since the dawn of time…” – Michael Scott


During the conversation, it’s important that you don’t mince words. Unlike Michael Scott in the above quote, get right to the point. Though the topic might be delicate and you feel as though it deserves a wind-up, you’ve already scheduled the conversation. This means everyone involved has been agonizing over the discussion, and a straightforward manner will be much more appreciated. Additionally, when we start to ramble on or let conversations go longer than needed, it’s more likely we will backtrack or start to negotiate with ourselves. Say what you mean in as few words as needed, and then let the other person speak or be comfortable in the silence.


Make the Most of Difficult Conversations

They say the devil is in the details. While this adage might cast a negative light on difficult conversations, the truth is that preparing for these discussions is essential to making them productive. By taking time to consider your objectives and centering yourself emotionally, you ensure that chats will accomplish goals, not become a fight or argument.



Online Collaboration in Virtual Classrooms

College is a social experience, through and through. Though your journey to graduation is very much your own, most of your time on campus is spent engaging in real-world interactions, collaboration, and group work. In fact, educational studies performed at Vanderbilt showed a direct correlation between collaborative learning and a higher level of understanding in students.

The question is: What if your learning isn’t happening inside a classroom at all this year? The COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing, leaving universities with a tough decision to make, namely whether students will return to campus or continue with online classes. Even if your school opens its campus, there’s a strong chance that a portion of your courses with be digital. However, online classes will require the same level of group work, even without meeting in-person. Before your college semester kicks off, let’s review a few important tips for collaborating across virtual classes.


Explore the Course Software 

When classes start, students can expect overview of the curriculum, a week-by-week schedule of relevant assignments, and usually some specific instructions for success. The same is certainly true in digital classrooms, but a wrinkle is added when new software is involved.

There’s a good chance your college already has Blackboard or another familiar online hub where professors can post assignments, offer additional materials, calculate grades, and generally keep the virtual work by students all in one, set place. But this software also is where the conversations and discussions live. You might use forums, shared docs, or web chat, all depending on your teacher’s preferences. Take some time before coursework gets underway to navigate around and make note of where all relevant work lives online.


Engage in Online Discussions

In-class discussions are a great form of collaborative learning, as they allow students to talk through their understanding of topics under the guidance of an instructor. However, when that same discussion is happening in a chat room or open forum, the academic experience can feel unnatural and even leave students disengaged with the process. But just like in front of your peers in college, the only way to get better is simply to trust yourself and try.

If class discussions are held in messaging platforms like Slack, or a course-specific web forum, it’s important to ensure your messages do not send the wrong impression. If you’ve ever felt attacked in a Facebook comment section, you know how easily tone can be misconstrued, or used purposely to insult others. Virtual classrooms should be a safe space for discussion, so do not use vulgar or insulting terms. Remember, these are new classmates, and your conversations will only get easier as you become acquainted online.


Prepare for Group Projects Online

Love them or hate them, group projects are a regular part of college courses. These collaborative efforts can be highly contentious, specifically when certain group members don’t pull their own weight. Vickie Cook, executive director of the Center for Teaching, Learning & Service at the University of Illinois at Springfield, agrees. “Group projects can be really great, and they can be a disaster. The most important thing is that they have a purpose,” she said.

Completing group projects in online classes can be even more trying because you’re unable to meet and discuss in-person. That’s why succeeding in group work during online classes requires careful planning and organization to enable everyone to complete their part. First, choose a leader for the group. This person should assemble and organize all the work, set meeting times, and maintain momentum for the project. From there, establish all tasks that need to be accomplished, and then try to align each of those with group members’ individual strengths. Also, it would help to use a preferred method of communication, whether that’s through Facebook Messenger, Skype, Gchat, or text messaging; keeping all discussions in one place will help with organization and record-keeping.


Make Virtual Learning Feel Just Like Real Life

The possibility of no in-person classes for the 2020-2021 school year is truly disappointing. However, virtual classrooms can still provide you with knowledge and insights from talented professors and peers at your college. It will take some adjustment, but by staying positive and trusting the instructors, you can get the most out of this year of college.






Anxiety and Depression Wellness Checklist

How are you?


Living with anxiety or depression isn’t easy. It’s about self-awareness, self-management, and knowing when to ask for help. Advocating for your mental health is hugely important. But even those with a long-time diagnosis will tell you that things have a way of sneaking up on you. That’s why daily check-ins with yourself are vital, because when negative thoughts or feelings start to pile up, the way back can seem like too difficult a feat.


The following is an unofficial mental health checklist for your daily routine. While this is a great way to actualize your feelings and spot trends or concerns, this is not a substitute for seeking help from mental health professionals. Use this short survey whenever you find time, but when in doubt, always consult with a doctor.


Part 1: Charting Your Anxiety and Depression Symptoms


The feelings caused by anxiety and depression come in many forms and differ greatly between individuals. They can rise and fall over the course of days or weeks, making it difficult for the person suffering through those feelings to keep track of their progress. The following two checklists are questionnaires for some of the most common symptoms associated with depression and anxiety. There are entries for today, the past week, and the past two weeks, so you can identify trends.




Depression Symptom Checklist


Mark from 1-5, with 1 being no symptoms at all.




                                                                        Today             The Last Week          Last 2 Weeks


I feel sad or pessimistic


I’m not sleeping enough

I’m sleeping more than usual.


I feel irritable and frustrated.


I am having trouble concentrating or focusing.


I have little to no appetite.


I am uninterested in my usual hobbies or friends


I have new physical pain, like headaches, back pain, or nausea.


I have feelings of self-harm or suicide


Anxiety Symptom Checklist


Mark from 1-5, with 1 being no symptoms at all.




                                                                        Today             The Last Week          Last 2 Weeks


I feel nervous or anxious.


I feel worried about more than one thing at a time.


I have new things I am worrying about today.


Feelings of anxiety and worry are always with me.


I am unable to relax or sit still without feeling worse.


I’m feeling on edge or irritable.


I have physical symptoms like



Shortness of breath,


Tingling in extremities,

Panic attacks



I feel consumed by the feeling that something bad is about to happen.


Part 2: Continuing Mentally Healthy Activities


Now that you’ve established baseline trends of anxiety and depression, it’s time to be proactive and practice self-care. Before panicking or letting negative thoughts overwhelm you, try to complete a few of these items. It might feel like a chore, but you’ll be busy distracting yourself while learning to feel comfortable, healthy, and happy.


Healthy Activities for Anxiety and Depression



Exercise for 1 hour.

Eat something, healthy if possible.

Drink a full glass of water.

Practice deep breathing.

Take a bath or long shower.

Make sure to wear comfortable and clean clothes.

Take out trash or recycling.


Clean up messes and do dishes.

Read a book for 30 minutes.

Go for a walk outside.

Play with a pet at home.

Watch a show or movie I love, even if I’ve already seen it.

Call a family member.

Call a friend or partner.

Journal my feelings or draw pictures of them.



How to Use the Anxiety and Depression Checklist


Tracking your feelings of anxiety and depression, as well as your daily activities, is a good first step toward understanding your mental health. If you have already received a diagnosis from a doctor, this can be used in conjunction with your existing treatment plan. If not, the information you fill out can be used to provide a snapshot of your ongoing mental health, as well as provide detailed information to a doctor should you ever choose to see one. Take care of yourself, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Stay Active, Stay Positive

Around the world, rates of depression and anxiety are at an all-time high. According to the World Health Organization, over 264 million people worldwide are affected by depression.  Between the COVID-19 pandemic, civil unrest, and economic instability, it seems like once we’ve reassured ourselves on one front, another issue comes up. Plus, over 80 percent of low- and middle-income people do not receive treatment for their depression.

While exercise is no substitute for the help of a clinical professional in severe cases, there is also evidence that a regular exercise regimen can benefit mental health. This is because exercise directly affects our brain! Here’s the science you need to know to telegraph your mind some feel-good messages, plus our favorite exercises to perform during social distancing.

How Exercise Affects the Brain

Exercise helps our brain in several ways. Psychology Today reports that even a short walk causes the production of feel-good hormones called endorphins, as well as enkephalins. These help our short-term problems seem more manageable. “The simple act of focusing on exercise can give us a break from current concerns and damaging self-talk,” writes psychologist Sarah Gingell.

In addition, observation of mice has shown researchers that exercise might cause new neurons to form in the hippocampus. This is the part of the brain that regulates emotion and supports our memory. Antidepressant medications used over time also stimulate the growth of the hippocampus. That means a habit of exercising might have a similar effect on parts of the brain as taking medicines.

Exercises that Help Depression

Aerobic exercise has been proven in studies to help with depression and mental health. Aerobics increase blood flow to the brain and stimulate the adrenal system, among other effects on the body. The Official Journal of the Association of Medicine and Psychiatry shared a literature review of many studies researching the effect of exercise on depression symptoms. One group of clinically depressed patients walked 20-40 minutes three times per week for six weeks and experienced an improvement in symptoms compared to other groups. Another study focused on cycling which significantly improved symptoms. Overall, studies support that aerobic exercise alleviates depression. Popular forms of aerobics include:

o   Walking

o   Jogging

o   Swimming

o   Cycling

o   Gardening

o   Dancing

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) shares that walking is the most popular form of exercise and it has grown more popular in recent years. Sixty percent of people attain their recommended aerobic exercise by walking for fun, or to reach a necessary destination, like work. Forty to fifty percent of people will walk to a shop, school, or church if the location is within a mile of their home.

Best Exercises During Social Distancing

What effect does social distancing have on the need for exercise? Bloomberg shared graphs of data collected by Apple, monitoring peoples’ physical activity through their devices. This data showed anywhere from a 50-80 percent decrease in the amount people walked worldwide during the first wave of the pandemic.

However, outdoor exercise isn’t only possible but encouraged during social distancing. Sunlight has major positive effects on mood and gives you necessary Vitamin D. You can still walk, jog, or ride a bike outdoors as long as you maintain 6 feet of distance between yourself and others. Essentially, try to find an isolated place to exercise.

If you will be near others or don’t know if distancing is possible, the US Department of Health and Human Services recommends a face covering. Also, don’t forget the sunscreen! Broad-spectrum sunscreen is important to protect against skin cancer, which affects five million Americans a year. It’s no good to fix one problem while causing another, right?

If you live in an urban area or don’t otherwise want to exercise outdoors, another popular exercise alternative in these times is online workout classes. Whether using YouTube to watch a free video or downloading a subscription app with daily streaming, you can still feel connected to others and get expert coaching on your fitness journey. Even household chores or a private dance party to your favorite tunes can get your heart rate up and help you feel better.

Get a Mix of Physical Activity for Healthy Mind and Body

Sources like the Mayo Clinic, Harvard Health, and Popular Science all agree that 30 minutes of moderate activity or 15 minutes of vigorous activity are needed five days a week to achieve health results. That means 150 minutes on the moderate side, or 75 on the vigorous side. It’s also important to mix aerobics with strength training to improve muscle mass.

Of course, that is just the recommended minimum. As your attitude and mindset adjust with these new habits, you might want to go even further, and that’s great. Just make sure to align your diet and rest periods with your new workouts, and you will be doing the work to banish the blues every day.

Online Events and Conferences 2020

Right now, there are nearly 22,000 online events being published daily, according to Eventbrite. Business and professional online events specifically have increased by over 1,100 percent. With so many options to connect, learn, and gather through our devices, it can be difficult to decide which are the most valuable. While every person’s schedule and interests are different, we collected a list of online events and conferences for late summer and fall 2020.

Online Conferences for Startups & Entrepreneurs 2020

Trying to start or sustain a business during the current pandemic is certainly a challenge. Luckily, the increase in online events means a significant increase in curated resources for entrepreneurs.

VentureSummit Virtual Connect (August 4-6): This event highlights different VCs and venture funds.

Disrupt 2020 (September 14-18): Five days of non-stop programming coupled with a focus on providing insights to entrepreneurs.

Founder Institute Online Webinars (ongoing): The Founder Institute is scheduling recurring programming for founders and business leaders.

StartupDevKit (ongoing): A 3-month online incubator and accelerator for startups at any stage.

Online Business Conferences 2020

Whether you’re looking to improve existing skills, learn new ones, or expand your network, online conferences and events can be just as useful as in-person ones. These offerings will grow your skills and help you meet new people, or promote your business:

Digital Marketing World Forum (September 16-17): Learn the latest ambitious trends and strategies in digital marketing.

Elevate Main Stage (September 21-24): Hear from experts at the intersections of technology, sustainability, and innovation about what’s next for many industries.

Online Personal Development Resources 2020

Plenty of online events are focused on business, but there are also conferences and webinars for personal development. Here are a few resources to help you choose an event that’s ideal for you:

Eventbrite lists events from all over the world, from art appreciation to live music to interpersonal skills training.

Coursera allows you to audit online courses from over 200 colleges and universities for free, or pay a subscription to work toward earning a certificate.

YouTube has a specific angle on the home fitness market, with many popular channels to help you start yoga, strength training, kickboxing, or more from your own home.  Plus, you can search for just about any other topic, too.

MasterClass lets you watch instruction on everything from skateboarding to cooking to leadership from some of the world’s best minds.

Attend Online Events to Maximize Opportunity

These are just some of the online events and conferences scheduled for summer and fall 2020. We encourage everyone to find something that appeals to them and keep engaging in lifelong learning, even when that can’t happen in person. Take advantage of this new normal to access online events that might otherwise require you to travel across the world. This could be the start of something great!