Difficult discussions are never easy, but they can be managed with basic understanding and some simple techniques.
Photo by Joshua Ness on Unsplash
by: E.B. Johnson
No matter who you are, you?ve come to a point in your life before where you?ve had to address something you felt was better left avoided. Learning how to have difficult conversations is one of the most important skills we can learn. Addressing the issues that we have, or the conflict that we feel is part of being an adult, but it can be challenging to navigate intense situations with the grace that?s needed to reach a mutually beneficial understanding.
Hard issues take a certain know-how and understanding to address, but that?s something that doesn?t necessarily come naturally when you?re dealing with traumatic past experiences or an inner-critic that?s telling you that you?re unworthy. Learning how to address others and the way they make us feel is difficult, but it?s also a part of coming into our own, and it takes compassion, understanding and self-awareness to get there.
This is why the tough talks matter.
To many of us, it can seem easier to avoid an issue, rather than to address it. Tough talks are no walk in the park, and they can leave us feeling anxious, stressed and desperate for a way out. The problem, however, is that these conversations are often the most important ones we can have, and for a number of reasons.
Without feedback, it?s impossible to grow as a person. Feedback helps us identify the things and people that are important, and it also helps us to get in touch with the growth we so desperately seek. Without feedback from others (no matter how tough it is to hear) it?s impossible for us to develop the self-awareness that?s critical for our lasting happiness and fulfillment. Facing up to the hard talks is one of the best ways by which we refine the core of who we are, and tap into our cosmic honesty. Because of our need for acceptance, it can be hard to confront someone about a touchy or uncomfortable topic.
Having these conversations promptly, however, helps us to cultivate our integrity, and helps us to develop the courage and honesty we need to address the hard moments ahead in our futures. The fact of the matter is that our lives are peppered with difficult conversations. Avoiding the tough stuff will only get you so far in life, as life is made up of tough stuff. By learning how to brave hard conversations now, you?ll be better equipped for the next conflict you face, or the next situation that calls for an addressing of uncomfortable issues and emotions.
Why is it so hard to have delicate conversations?
There are many reasons we find having the tough talks hard, and it ranges from our childhood experiences to the way we relate to the world around us. Having delicate conversations can make us feel uncomfortable, or bring us back to points in our past we?d rather not address. We have to overcome these hesitations, however, and we can do that by building up and understanding of who we are and why it?s so hard for us to address certain things and people.
Fear of rejection
As humans, we have a core need to be loved and accepted by the people around us. We are social creatures, and that means surrounding ourselves with people that meet those needs. When confronted with a tough topic or conflict, it can make you shy away in the belief that you will ?scare off? the people you ?need? to feel happy. The problem with that thinking, however, is that it just isn?t true. Festering hurts and emotions are far more toxic to our social relationships than addressing our issues openly and honestly.
Lack of confidence
When we suffer from a lack of confidence, it can permeate every aspect of our lives and lead us to believe that we don?t have a right to the very valid opinions that we hold. As humans, we have a right to our opinions, and we have a right to address the issues that we have with others. Believing otherwise is a sign of an inner-critic on the rampage, and a signal that it might be time to reassess.
Fear of hurting another?s feelings
This one is tied into our desire for supportive social circles, but it?s another fallacy that often leads to festering issues in our relationships. When you find yourself at odds with someone you care about, it can cause you to shy away from issues out of a fear of hurting their feelings. Focusing too much on the other person?s emotions, of course, causes you to neglect your own, however, which only further undermines the relationship that you?re sharing.
Unclear on what you want and need
Being unclear on what we actually want is one of the biggest reasons we can find ourselves in conflict with those around us. In order to for us to form solid and meaningful partnerships or friendships, we have to be clear about what?s expected from either side and that can only be done when we?ve spent some time getting to know ourselves.
Traumatic past experiences
If you tried to address issues or conflict in the past and were met with a traumatic response, it can make you shy away from addressing issues in future and getting what you need in order to be happy. Our trauma can haunt us and undermine our happiness in a lot of ways. For many, in order to move forward it?s necessary to resolve those past pains before addressing issues in the future.
How to have hard talks the right way.
It takes some delicate maneuvering and understanding to have hard talks, but it can be done. By keeping yourself grounded and present, you can engage the other party and get down to the topics that matter. Though you can?t control how they react, you can control how you react and how you present the things that come next. Use these simple techniques for getting the most out of your hard conversations.
1. Prepare yourself
The first step in having any tough talk is making sure you?re emotionally and mentally prepared for such. When you?re having a difficult conversation with someone, it?s always a good idea to do some preparations and make sure you know exactly what you want to talk about and how you want things to be handled (from your perspective).
Consider how you?re going to approach the person, and when and where the best place to approach that topic might be. Once you?ve mutually agreed on a time and a place to sit down and get real, you can start piecing together what you need to say and how you need to say it.
Focus on phrases like, ?I?d like to talk with you about x, y, z?? or ?It?s really time for us to talk about a, b, c?? and make sure you meet in a place to discuss your issues that is not only quiet, but safe and accomodating for you both. Try to schedule your talk sooner rather than later. The longer you hold on to the angry, hurt or bent-out-of-shape emotions you might be feeling ? the more adverse effects you will begin to experience in your own personal and private life.
2. Dump the assumptions
When going into a deep or critical conversation with someone, it?s important that you leave your assumptions at the door and go into things with an open mind. Just because you know someone, just because you?ve lived with them or been with them for more than a decade ? that doesn?t mean that you truly know them or the perspective that they have of any given situation.
We all grow and change with time. If you want to have a truly meaningful conversation, you have to drop your assumptions and learn to come to the table with an open mind, an open heart and a completely clean slate.
Likewise, the things we want and expect of those around us changes too. For any hope of resolution, you have to open up your perspective and learn to leave room for the other person?s point of view. Things have to be renegotiated from time-to-time and that?s okay. Leave room for change and accept it as an integral part of life and the difficult conversation you?re about to engage in. The sooner you realize this, the easier things will become.
3. Stay on the same level
No matter where you?re coming from in this conversation, it?s imperative that you work hard to keep one another on an even keel. You?ll never reach a resolution if one of you is constantly trying tot be superior or have the upper hand, so come to the conversation with the knowledge and understanding that no one is better than the other. You?re both just trying to express what?s important to you.
Even little things can help you maintain a balance in the conversation. As much as you can, stay on the same eye level and try not to be ?above? or ?below? the other person. Speak calmly and directly and make lots of eye contact and gestures that make it clear you?re listening and taking on board their perspective.
By trying to take the upper hand, or attempting to dominate the conversation with your point-of-view, you?ll only alienate the other party and make them feel as though they aren?t being listened to. You don?t need to be ?right? or ?better than? ? you need to come to a mutual understanding and that takes equanimity and mutual respect.
4. Be respectful
Remaining equality in your conversation is only part of the battle. Another part is maintaining respect for one another, no matter how sensitive things might get. Without a mutual respect and understanding, there is little hope of being able to work together to find a resolution that works for you both. Respect is an integral part of who we are and what we want from life. You have to give respect to get it, and that includes difficult situations and difficult conversations.
Respect means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. It means not interrupting the other party when they speak, and it means giving the other person the time and space they need to respond. It also means avoiding blame-games, low-blows and nasty maneurvers like name-calling, yelling and threatening. Don?t point fingers, and don?t shift responsibility. Being respectful also means carrying your own baggage and understanding that the other person has every right to their perspective.
When respect goes out the window, negative emotions like anger and rage take their place. These negative emotions force us to shut down, internalize and even resort to counterattacks that further undermine the conclusions and resolutions we?re trying to reach. Respect is the foundation of all healthy communication, and we have to make it the foundation of our difficult conversations too.
5. Be clear and use specific examples
Many of the conflicts we find ourselves in come down to miscommunications and misunderstandings. When we build up expectations, but then fail to communicate those expectations or needs effectively, we can find ourselves at odds with the people around us. The only way to overcome these misunderstandings is to learn how to be clear about what we want and what we need. To truly overcome a difficult situation, we have to be honest, concise and clear.
Describe your concerns to the other person and describe (specifically) what you would like to see happen differently. Be clear and use exact and specific examples, being honest, open and clear about what you?re feeling ? and why ? along the way.
Avoid words and phrases that contain words like, ?never?, ?always? and ?everything?, and avoid too exaggeration and hyperbole. Though these types of definitive words might describe the passion or emotion you?re feeling, they?re also absolute and overgeneralizing, which only goes to undermine the points you?re trying to make.
6. Never walk away
When our emotions are a part of the conversation, it can cause us to act rashly and engage in problematic behaviors like walking away or shutting down completely. The problem with these kinds of reactions, however, is they don?t help us to come to the common solutions that we need in order to find true happiness and contentment. The only way out of a problem is through it.
Never walk away from a conversation in the heat of the moment, and never call a conversation quits without the consent of the other party. Though you might have said what you needed to say, the other party might not have. It?s important to come to a mutual stopping point, less you further alienate yourself and aggravate the situation by making the other person feel disrespected.
If the conversation has come to a boil, with no end in sight, opt instead for a timeout. Timeout?s are a great way for both parties to take a breather and readjust their emotional compass. When things get too heated it?s important to give one another the space you need to recalibrate and realign to the correct course of action. Once we?re composed, it?s easier to come back to the table with an even state of mind and an eye toward the mutual respect that?s needed to come to some sort of solution.
7. Take responsibility for your role and emotions
Perhaps the hardest and most important part of having difficult conversations is taking responsibility for your own actions and emotions. When we?re mad, angry or upset it can seem easier to make that someone else?s problem, but no one has the power to make us feel anything we don?t want to.
No matter what the situation might be, it?s important the acknowledge the role you played in getting there. Likewise, it?s important to acknowledge your own feelings, rather than making them the baggage of someone else. Use phrases like ?I feel,? and drop blaming sentences like ?You made me..? to show that you own up to the way you feel and that you own up to the part you?re playing in this confrontation.
Just as before, it?s important to be clear and specific here, listing anything that might have contributed to what you?re feeling, while also accepting that your emotions are your emotions, and yours alone. Don?t focus on actual behaviors, just focus on your feelings and how they are causing you to relate to the other party. You can come together and find common ground, but not until you accept your own role and the way you react when it comes to others and conflict.
Putting it all together?
Having difficult conversations is just a part of adult life, but they can be mastered when we spend some time getting to know ourselves and the ways in which we handle conflict and discourse. Getting down to things with someone important is never easy, but it can be done when you get out of your own way and remember the mutual respect and understanding that we all crave. Mastering the tough talks can might take time to master, but it doesn?t have to take your all. It just takes a little practice and little self-awareness.
Prepare for your talk ahead of time and arrange a mutually workable time with the other party involved, in a space that?s free, quiet and comfortable. Address the issues that you have honestly and openly, but leave plenty of space for them to express their issues as well. Dump your assumptions and come from a place of equanimity and respect, using clear and specific examples of how you?re feeling and why you?re feeling that way. At the end of the day, all any of us want is to be heard. Share your point of view clearly and allow the other party to do the same. Only when you realize that you and you alone are responsible for your emotions and reactions will you be able to come to the table with the mutual eye to understanding that you need to find a resolution that works for you both.