Helpful Tips for Having a Difficult Conversation
We all have to have them at some point. That conversation with a loved one or a close friend - that chat you were dreading and trying desperately to avoid - can't be avoided any longer. Most times we try to delay these conversations because of how much we value the relationships with the people with whom we need to have them. We fear our relationship will be at risk of harm, and in an attempt to save it, we avoid anything that may pose a threat - including difficult, sensitive topics.
However, this isn't always the best strategy and - sometimes in the long-term - may actually do more harm than good if the issue has major implications for the parties involved. So how can you tackle that sensitive conversation?
It helps to think things through before you talk about the issue. Think about what the objective of the conversation would be, and outline any points you'd like to make or clarify. By making a plan you are also likely to consider how the other person may feel or react to what you say and/how you say it. Be careful, though - you don't want to think you are able to predict their response, but foster understanding and empathy.
Consider the method of communication
How you discuss the issue is as important as what you say. There are some things that are best discussed face-to-face instead of via email or text message, because tone and intent can often be misunderstood from the written word. On the other hand, sometimes contentious issues are best disucssed through writing to give the writer the opportunity to clearly articulate their thoughts, and the reader the chance to slowly consume and process the message. Consider which method of communication is best suited for the circumstances and the relationship.
Consider the timing
Finding the right moment to have a difficult conversation can make a significant difference. It is best to ascertain that both of you are in a stable and preferrably positive mood before proceeding to discuss those hard-to-talk-about matters. Therefore, if you or the other person is tired, hungry, stressed, or in a generally low mood, rethink having the conversation at that time. Another strategy to consider is to let the person know you would like to talk. However, be careful of the timing of this as a lengthy wait between informing them and actually having that chat can cause significant distress.
Communicating in an assertive way entails articulating your needs and concerns clearly, openly, honestly and confidently while being respectful and considerate of the other person's feelings and rights. Also, assertive communication does not ascribe blame or rush to judgment. By communicating in this way you are validating both your needs and feelings, as well as that of the other party involved.
Lead with positive affirmations
Tense conversations can sometimes be assuaged by starting off with highlighting the positives. Speaking of what has gone well, or positive attributes and character traits is a good way to not only break the ice, but helps the other person feel at ease instead of attacked.
Hopefully these tips help you take the next step to finally have that sit-down. Are there other strategies that you have tried that worked? What are they?
If you're struggling with this and other issues, and would like to discuss how therapy can help, feel free to contact me by calling 416-688-5274, or book an initial consult.