by Nina Westbrook
We’ve all been there. A boundary has been crossed, it’s seriously bugging you, and you’re struggling to figure out how to communicate those feelings so that you can move forward in a healthy way. As we make this slow return to pre-pandemic normal, many of us are engaging in more social situations with friends, family, and colleagues. It’s natural for this process to bring sensitivities back to the surface or it might be that your time spent at home has encouraged you to address changes you’ve been wanting to make for a long time. Regardless, even the healthiest relationships come with their fair share of conflicts and I’m here to outline a few tips for initiating tough conversations so that you can address the issue at hand, explore resolutions, and grow.
ACKNOWLEDGE THE GOOD
Before jumping straight in to telling someone how you’re feeling, it can be helpful to kick off the conversation with something positive. Not only does this remind the person you’re talking to that you appreciate them for a variety of reasons but recalling the good they bring to your life can be a helpful exercise for you as well.
SHARE HOW THE SITUATION MADE YOU FEEL
We all perceive events differently and miscommunications are common both at work and in our personal lives. Instead of focusing on the details of the situation itself, prepare to share how it made you feel. During tough conversations, people can become defensive quickly so it’s best to use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. A great example of an “I” statement would be saying something like this: I’m really feeling sad about the miscommunication we had last night. I’d love to clear the air.
EXPRESS A WILLINGNESS TO LISTEN
Once you’ve shared how the situation made you feel, make it clear that you initiated this conversation so that you can be sure your boundaries are being respected and that you want to understand how they perceived what took place. The goal shouldn’t be about determining who’s right and who’s wrong. Focus on sharing how you feel and respectfully listen to one another so that you have a better understanding of how to manage similar situations in the future.
DON’T GET DISTRACTED
When we’re having a tough conversation with someone we spend a lot of time with, it can be tempting to call on other examples from the past to prove a point. Referencing unrelated situations might lead to a cyclical rabbit hole that can grow out of hand and, before you know it, things have escalated and the issue you started the conversation to discuss gets lost entirely. It’s best to maintain focus and work through things one issue at a time.
REFRAIN FROM BLAME & SHAME
Without focus, engaging in a tough conversation can quickly break down into a round of the Blame Game. If you realize that your goal is to blame or shame someone, it might be time to re-evaluate your motivation. Are you here to express your feelings so that you can have a healthier relationship moving forward or are you more concerned with proving someone wrong?
MANAGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS
We’re human and it’s only natural to go into conversations with expectations, but it’s important that we manage those expectations before the discussion begins. When you go in expecting an apology or some sort of immediate resolution, you’re determining what a positive outcome should look like and having a tough conversation doesn’t automatically guarantee that any of those things will happen. Remind yourself that the only goal is to share your feelings, listen, learn, and grow in understanding. What comes after that is yet to be determined.
Remember that addressing a tough situation when you’re feeling calm and you’ve had time to prepare what you want to say is always best! When these conversations happen angry, people are more likely to say things they don’t mean and the discussion becomes far more challenging than it needs to be. I hope these tips are helpful and that you put them to work next time you’re faced with a difficult conversation!
Have certain tips worked for you in the past? Share them in the comments below!