Having the hard conversations

If there is a difficult conversation that you have been putting off or avoiding, here are some tips on how you might be able to approach the conversation.

Having the hard conversations
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez / Unsplash

Your brain's main goal is to keep you safe. Often times in order to feel safe, your mind will try to avoid discomfort in general. Having hard conversations, especially with people we care about or are required to interact with frequently, definitely falls into the realm of discomfort.

I myself have had a history of actively avoiding conflict, and a lot of people I know feel the same way. It’s so much easier to avoid conflict and hope that whatever the issue is, goes away on its own.

What I have come to realise through my work around improving my anxiety, is that having the difficult conversations lead to a resolution a lot faster! In simple terms, short-term pain for long-term gain.

I think a lot of the time my mind would tell me that it's easier to suffer alone than have a hard conversation with someone and potentially make them suffer or at the least make them aware that something is wrong. But a lot of the time, especially for those that suffer from anxiety, the suffering is caused by catastrophising, misinterpreting, mind reading, or just general overthinking.

Even when there actually is an issue that requires a difficult conversation, it is generally better to have this conversation early before whatever it is becomes an ongoing problem or builds up into something even worse.

If your difficult conversation is in relation to one of your boundaries, remember that communicating your boundaries is important and does not make you needy or a bad person. As long as your boundaries are also respecting the other person's boundaries, you have a right to share your perspective and have your boundaries respected.

If there is a difficult conversation that you have been putting off or avoiding, here are some tips on how you might be able to approach the conversation.

How to have a hard conversation

  1. Be clear on the goal of the conversation
  2. Write down a list of the points you want to get across and remove any points that you are tempted to make that aren’t helpful and may create conflict
  3. Depending on the topic of the conversation, do some googling to see if there are any helpful tips on how to have the conversation you’re needing to have (e.g. quitting your job, relationship issues, mending after a fight etc.)
  4. Write down options for what the other person might say and what your responses could be. Even try writing the worst-case scenario for their reaction and depending on the person, let them know that you’re worried about how they will respond.
  5. Write the scenario as if it were from the other person's perspective
  6. Choose a time and place that are conducive to a productive conversation that isn’t under pressure or with a time limit (i.e. don’t just write before you’re needing to be somewhere)
  7. If appropriate, give the person prewarning about the topic you’re wanting to discuss so that they feel prepared and don’t feel ambushed or taken aback when you do start the conversation.
  8. If you require an answer to one or a few specific questions, try to be flexible and give the other person time to respond. This may be a few minutes to think where you are silent, or it may be more appropriate to give them a few days and then resume the conversation once they have had time to think.
  9. Along the same line as giving the person time to respond, try to avoid finishing the other person's sentences or asking questions phrased in a way that is not open-ended or puts words into the other person's mouth.
  10. Don’t be afraid to take back words that you misspoke, or reframe a question if it didn’t come out quite the way you meant. Also offer the same options to the other person, allowing them to rephrase their words if they said something that wasn’t quite what they meant. Often times when someone comes to you with a hard conversation and it’s something you weren’t aware of, it's hard to know what to say or how to phrase things as you haven’t had the time to think about it. Cut the other person some slack!

The goal of hard conversations is generally to come to a resolution, not to work out who is right and wrong. Sometimes the goal of the conversation might just be to help the other person understand your point of view or be aware of something that has been upsetting you. Whatever the goal of the conversation is, always keep that in your mind during the conversation and make it known to the other person.

I hope that these tips help you enter into future difficult conversations with a little more confidence and flexibility. Your brain might tell you not to have the conversation because it's uncomfortable but if it's a conversation that needs to be had, or if the issue is causing you suffering, it's always better to have the conversation sooner rather than later.