toxic conversations

How to Cope with Toxic Conversation Tactics

Have you ever walked away from a conversation and asked yourself, “What just happened? Did I fall for that again?”

It’s often challenging to deal with difficult people. One of the hardest parts is feeling blindsided by conversation tactics that don’t serve the dialog or the relationship, especially if you are trying to address a sensitive topic. It helps to educate and prepare yourself ahead of time so that when those types of conversations occur, you are ready to handle them wisely and respectfully.

Here are a few unhealthy approaches you may run across, with some strategies about how to handle them.


Whether outright lying or hiding or using more subtle “white lies,” deceit doesn’t build healthy relationships.  Discretion is important – you don’t have to share everything you know, and you also don’t need to be blunt and mean.  But dishonesty leads to a lack of trustworthiness.

Example: “A friend of mine wants to know about ______” (when it’s not a friend wanting to know, but them.)

Strategy: “Your friend is welcome to contact me if they like.”


Closely related to deceit, this is a claim that they really didn’t do or say something that you are asking them about. 

Example: “I don’t know what you are talking about.”

Strategy: “That’s interesting. I distinctly recall our conversation (give as much context as possible) about this.”


This is an attempt to change course in the conversation in order to avoid confronting facts. It’s changing the subject to avoid dealing with a question.

Example: “Did you hear about the new restaurant in town?”

Strategy: “I did! And I’d love to go there sometime.  What are your thoughts about what I was asking earlier?”


Divert and deflect are closely related, but deflection is more an attempt to make YOU change the subject—to turn from your original intention in the conversation, sometimes to a common interest.

Example: “You went to that new restaurant, right? What do you think of it?”

Strategy:  “I did, and it was great. Let’s go back to what we were talking about.”

Disappointment / Disapproval

Sometimes, when you bring up a challenge, people will try to turn a situation around to express some disappointment in you.  

Examples: “You’re making a big deal out of nothing” or “It’s disappointing that you can’t let this go.”  Also, “You take things too seriously.”

Strategy:  “This is a big deal/serious to me. It’s important. That’s why we should talk about it.”


This tactic provides excuses for why they did or said what they did.  Or it attempts to water down the effect of their words or actions. 

Example: “It was just a little untruth.” or “I was tired and not really thinking about what I was saying.”

Strategy: “A little untruth makes it harder for me to know what’s really accurate” or “In that case, please wait on something important until you’ve rested.”


This is when the person flips the conversation to put expectations on you.

Examples: “I’m your boss. Don’t speak to me with that tone” or “I want you to stop this conversation right now.”

Strategy: “I am an important part of your team. I respectfully ask that we take the time to discuss this.”

Unproductive or toxic conversations aren’t fun, but they are inevitable from time to time.  Being more aware is an important step toward being prepared to change them into a productive dialog.

Note: some situations require more in-depth guidance and counseling. Please seek help if you are in an unsafe situation or need trained guidance in navigating a difficult relationship.


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