How To Have Difficult Conversations

We’ve all been there: you’ve got an obstacle in a relationship that has to be addressed. Maybe someone you love let you down, or a colleague at work made you feel small, or your family has pushed your buttons one time too many. It’s scary to have a difficult conversation, and many of us find ourselves finding excuses to avoid confronting our friends (and our demons). Here are a few ways to ease the anxiety and clear the air.

Start With Yourself

Before you enter a difficult conversation, spend some alone. A tough conversation can be daunting because we’re afraid of being misunderstood or not being heard. It helps to take some time to figure out exactly what you want the other person to hear. Ask yourself:

  • What do you want to gain from having the conversation? What do you hope will be the outcome? 

  • What exactly are you upset about? Why did it hurt you? 

  • What emotions and assumptions are you carrying, and how are they coloring how you’re interpreting the situation? Can you find anything that you can “put aside?” 

“Effective communication is 20% what you know and 80% how you feel about what you know,” says Jim Rohn. Examine what you’re bringing into the conflict, and if what you’re bringing in is fair to the other person.

Ask Questions

We’re born with an innate desire for self-protection. You’ve probably experienced the “wilder” symptoms of your natural defenses when you’re nervous, like a quickened pulse and elevated breathing. Your mind does something similar: when we feel wronged, our minds will search for the storyline that best protects our hearts (and our egos). 

This protection feels good, but it blocks you from understanding and healing. Instead, open your conversation by asking questions. Can you try to understand the other side? Can you see the situation from their perspective? What factors may you not have considered? When you bring empathy and compassion to the conversation, you make a safe space for others to be compassionate in return. (Yeah, we know, this part is hard. A little CBD can help.)

Make a Plan

When you’re ready to talk, come to the conversation prepared. This can look super detailed — maybe you write out the questions you’ll ask or the talking points you want to get across — or it can be more informal. Either way, you want to enter the conversation knowing what you want to say and what you want to leave with. Contemplate what solutions you can offer and decide what outcomes would make you happiest. 

Finally, consider what you’ll do in a worst case scenario. What will you do if the other person can’t see your side? There is strength in being able to agree to disagree. Identify what will help you feel restored: if you don’t reach a full resolution, what will you need to begin to heal? What compromises to your solutions would feel fair? 

There’s no denying the stress that a difficult conversation brings. Facing conflict head-on takes strength and courage, but with reflection and planning, it gets easier. Look inward, keep an open mind, and plan for the good and the bad. You deserve honest, open communication - and your loved ones will thank you.

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