April 11, 2024

How to Overcome Discomfort with Difficult Conversations   

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Over the last few weeks, we have been exploring how to confront and challenge our mentee or supervisee when it is necessary. We have mostly focused on how we, as a mentor or supervisor, can encourage our clients to open up, to speak frankly and to face difficulties in themselves and the world around them. Today, we are turning towards ourselves and how we handle those conversations. 

Facing Confrontation

Many mentors/supervisors are uncomfortable with confrontation and hard topics. It can be grueling work, to have to nudge mentees/supervisees in the right direction, and to continue to push them over and over to be truthful and open. This is normal. However, we need to be aware of how we act and react when we are uncomfortable, and if we are skirting certain topics. 

My Experience

Some time ago, I had a supervisee who seemed to be avoiding our meetings. He would often cancel at the last minute. I was feeling strong discomfort in tackling the topic and spent a lot of time beforehand about how to frame the question. Although, I didn’t want to come across as judgmental or angry, but I also needed to communicate the importance of showing up to planned sessions. I ended up saying, “I’m curious about how supervision is going for you… it seems hard for you to make our appointments.”  He went on to explain that he had been sick, he had a young baby at home and was struggling with finding enough time in the day. This was understandable, but I was being paid by his board to help him work through specific issues. I told him that I didn’t want to call the senior pastor and explain that he was missing his appointments. This opened up a conversation about priorities and how our sessions were working for him. In the end, we were able to find a time that worked better for him, and he made sure to show up to his future appointments. 

It is helpful to look at why the conversation feels so difficult. Sometimes, the discomfort comes from within, and sometimes it comes down to the particular client. Either way, it is up to you as the mentor/supervisor to overcome this discomfort. 

Things to Consider:

  • It’s my personality. Some people are more opposed to conflict and confrontation than others. If you are especially sensitive to conflict, this is something you need to recognise about yourself and something to work on with your own mentor. Feeling discomfort is normal, but it can’t prevent you from doing the work that needs to be done. 
  • The conversation is triggering. Occasionally, as we journey with our mentee/supervisee, we come across triggering topics for us. Perhaps your client is considering a divorce, and you are a child of divorce. This could lead to feelings unrelated to the situation at hand. In these moments, it is helpful to reflect and consult your own mentor. 
  • You are taking the conversation personally, rather than professionally. For example, a client you have worked with for years is ready to move on. You may avoid conversations focusing on their departure because you don’t want to say goodbye, or because you are feeling rejected. 
  • The client is difficult. Sometimes we deal with difficult clients. Perhaps they are emotionally volatile, and you dread confronting them as they could lose their temper.

In these situations, there are options:

  • Consider your approach. Are you asking the wrong questions? Is your tone conveying judgment? Are you unaware of outside context that is affecting them? 
  • Confer with your own mentor. Explore what is going on within yourself and consider what your mentee/supervisor might be experiencing. 
  • Speak directly to your mentee/supervisee. You can ask your client if they have feedback for your sessions. They may have suggestions to make the sessions more effective and peaceful. 
  • Create safety measures. If you are worried for your safety, you can choose to have your sessions in a public place, or find a mediator to sit in. 
  • Make a referral. Certain people may need specific, professional help that you are unable to offer. A person dealing with a specific mental illness, for example, may benefit more from speaking to a professional with expertise in that particular area. 
  • Prevent harm. A difficult but real situation that may arise is that a mentee/supervisee could put themselves or others in harm. You may hear them say something in a session that is cause for concern. You can follow up, explore it and see if it was said off-hand or ironically, but if it grows into a clear reality, you will need to take action. This may be ringing the Safe Church Helpline or reporting them to their board. Severe circumstances may require legal action. 

Reflection Questions: 

  • Is this discomfort coming from within or outside? 
  • Who is your mentor or supervisor? 
  • What do you need to talk about with them in your next session? 

What is next for you: Can we help you find a supervisor or mentor to process your difficult conversations? Get in touch with us at

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