We need to talk: Handling difficult conversations
Friday, June 29th, 2018

‘That thing you said hurt me.’

‘I need to renegotiate my contract.’

‘I’ve realised I never want to have kids.’

Once you become aware that you need to talk about it – whatever it is – there’s no going back. It’s going to hang over you, distracting you, making you anxious, and creating distance between you and the person you need to speak to. And it only gets worse the longer you put it off.

You have a right to talk about it

Sometimes we put off bringing up difficult topics because we don’t want to upset anyone. But someone is already upset: you.

These conversations are downright scary, but you can’t walk around with the weight of unspoken words on your chest.

Here’s how to start opening up.

Plan, don’t blurt

When it comes to sensitive topics, our first thoughts aren’t always our best thoughts. Decide exactly what you want to say (‘it hurt me when you criticised my cooking’) and what you don’t (‘you sounded just like your mother’).

Most importantly, know what you want out of the conversation. That might be:

  • Finding out their viewpoint, and what compromises you might be able to make (for example, if you have strong views on parenting or money management styles)
  • Reassurance (‘of course I don’t really think that, it was a stupid joke that fell flat’)
  • A behaviour change (‘from now on I’ll text you if I have to stay late at work’)
  • Or just an apology.

The person you’re talking to is probably feeling just as uncomfortable as you are – none of us have been given good social scripts for this stuff – so you’ll be doing them a favour if you can tell them clearly what you hope will happen next.

Be ready to listen

No matter how much thought you’ve given this, you still don’t know everything, because you don’t know the other person’s perspective. You need to be willing to hear them out. A lot of conflicts are based on misunderstandings (see: every romantic comedy ever) and even when there’s a real disagreement, you might be surprised by the solutions the other person comes up with.

You can survive awkward

When people write to advice columns, they often ask ‘How can I tell my sister xyz without making it awkward?’ And look, there are things you can do to make it less awkward – wait till your sister’s finished swallowing her wine, for instance.

But, if you wait until you feel easy-breezy about it, you could be waiting forever. Sometimes you just have to woman up, feel awkward as hell, and do it anyway.

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