Difficult conversations are a part of life, but that doesn’t mean we like having them.
Bringing up a topic that could cause conflict is scary, especially when we’re talking to someone we care about. It can seem easier to tiptoe around things like our partner never taking out the bins, or our boss not appreciating our hard work.
But figuring out how to have a hard conversation can sometimes be the first step to changing your situation for the better.
Here are some tips to help make your next tough conversation a little easier.
Prepare for the conversation
Being clear about what you want and how you’re feeling can make navigating difficult conversations simpler, but it can be hard to know exactly what to say in the moment.
A little bit of preparation can go a long way toward achieving the result you want.
Questions can be a great tool to help you think about the key points you want to bring up. Try asking yourself:
- Why do I feel like I need to have this conversation?
- What do I want to walk away from this discussion with?
- Am I making any assumptions about how they’re feeling?
- Is there anything else affecting how I’m feeling?
Thinking about these things beforehand can help you speak more clearly and calmly when you’re ready to start talking. Another way you could prepare is by practising the conversation with a friend unrelated to the issue to get a feel for exactly what you want to say.
Make sure you’re both in the right mindset before you start
Did you know that you can accurately predict the outcome of a conversation based on the first three minutes?
One of the hardest parts of having a difficult conversation is the beginning. Starting off on the right foot is important.
It’s normal to feel nervous and convince yourself the talk will go badly, but expecting a good result makes it a lot easier to approach the problem with the right attitude.
Before you start talking, take some time to visualize the best possible outcome. Thinking about the benefits of a resolution will help you remember what you’re working toward and make it easier to engage in a productive way.
Picking the right time is also important. Make sure to only bring up the topic when you’re both alert, relaxed and in a comfortable environment. You might even like to schedule it in advance to avoid catching the other person by surprise.
Be mindful of how you speak
Language is a tricky thing. It can be easy to read into what someone is saying based on the words they choose, especially if tensions are already high.
One simple way to stop a conversation from getting too hostile is to steer clear of statements that actively blame the other person. Try to avoid “you” statements with words like “never” or “always” in them, like:
- “You never listen to me”
- “You always do this”
- “You’re so careless”
- “You make me do everything”
Instead, you can use “I” statements to express these ideas, focusing on how you feel instead. A good “I” statement talks about the emotion you feel in response to an action, like:
- “I feel upset when you don’t respond to what I’m saying because I think you’re not listening”
- “I get frustrated when you don’t fold your washing because I feel like I’ve communicated that it’s important to me”
- “I get anxious when you spend money without telling me because I like to be able to plan our budget”
- “I feel overwhelmed and unappreciated when you don’t help out with the chores”
“I” statements make fewer assumptions about the other person, which can make it easier for them to hear and understand your point.
Often, the most important part of a conversation isn’t what we say, but what we hear.
Making sure both parties take the time to listen respectfully to the other person’s point of view is important for finding a resolution.
As tough as it can be at times, try not to interrupt each other. When the other person is speaking, focus on what they’re actually saying and not what you think they feel.
A good way to make sure you’re still on the same page is to repeat their point back to them after they’ve finished talking by saying “If I’m understanding, you think…”
They’ll either agree with your statement or provide more detail about their point of view, which will help you understand it better.
Take a break
Even when you’re both trying your best to be respectful, having a difficult conversation can be draining and upsetting.
If you feel like emotions are running too high for you to think clearly or you’re stuck talking in circles, it’s okay to call a time out.
Take half an hour to go and do something that relaxes you, like walking outside or reading a book.
This means when you come back to the conversation, you’ll be in a better frame of mind for reaching a positive conclusion.
Sometimes having a difficult conversation isn’t enough to reach the resolution you need, and there’s no easy solution to a tough situation.
Relationships Australia Queensland offers a wide range of family and marriage counselling services to support you if you feel like you can’t move forward from the same issues.
You can learn more about our services here, and for more tips to respectfully navigate conflict, check out our article How To Fight Fair In A Relationship.