I want a bigger life than the one that’s set out for me. I don’t just want to be nice all my life. I want to speak fiercely. I want to say things that might be discomforting, or even unsettling for me, because that’s the kind of life I want to lead.' – Steve Almond
Whether it’s telling your roommate you don’t dig their mess, sharing a rough past event with your partner, letting a friend know that they let you down, or having to ask a colleague to pull their socks up – life is full of those stomach-churning conversations. Any kind of chat that potentially pulls up conflict, invites upset on either side, or taps into those deep primal fears of rejection for whatever reason can cause us to avoid opening our mouth at all. But we all need to speak our truths and tough conversations help us to communicate our values, to clarify our needs and desires, to learn to be bolder and to stretch ourselves in better directions.
For those who struggle to speak up when it comes to the hard talks, these tips can help you take a deep breath and plunge right in…
Know the Purpose
Plunging into a hard conversation can start by mapping out in your own head what you want to achieve. Perhaps you want the conversation to move you closer to someone, raise awareness of an issue, or even actively seek some kind of change. Knowing what you want out of the conversation can help you enter it with a positive purpose.
Lay the Prep Work
Conversations that are hard to give can also be heavy to receive, so try and lay a little groundwork down so you don’t knock the other person off their feet. Pick your moment; over dinner in a busy restaurant or as soon as they have stepped off the bus may not be the best time to launch into things. Let them know that you really want to talk about something; it doesn’t hurt to briefly mention what that is ‘I want to talk to you about…when is the best time for you?’ that way they are prepared to embrace what is coming and feel like they have some control or input which helps it to feel more like a two-way conversation from the get-go.
Use Inclusive Language
This is especially true if part of the conversation involves how someone has hurt or made things difficult for you. While often pent up anger and emotion can explode into a tirade of blame games and finger-pointing, this really won’t be conducive to a healthy conversation. Get on a physical level with the person, avoid overgeneralizing language ‘never, always, everything’ and also don’t presume to speak for other people – ‘you think this, etc’. Use specific examples, refer to specific points, and also ask questions.
Relay Back Information
A great method for conflict resolution and hard conversations can be constantly checking back that you are being both understanding and being understood. When someone says something to you, before responding, take a moment and say; ‘This is what I think you are telling me, is this correct?’ and relay to them what you think they just said to you. Ask them to do the same. This helps iron out any communication breakdowns and misunderstandings early on, leading to better clarity and people feeling like they have been heard and understood.
Know Your Nervous System
We all work on different response levels – mostly the fight, flight or freeze principle. When having difficult conversations its important to be aware of what is going on in your nervous system so you can work both with and against that. While you may get the urge to flee from the room or shut down the conversation this is going to be counterintuitive, as will hitting back hard against the direction of the conversation, and just emotionally shutting down. Being aware of your own nervous system responses helps you to notice when you are getting overwhelmed so you can ask to take a moment, take down the tone, or whatever else it is that will help bring the best out of you, the other person, and the conversation at hand.
What are the hard conversations you are facing and how do you get through them? Share in the comments.