It is inevitable in life that you will be faced with situations in which it is essential that you have an uncomfortable conversation.
Look, I know that you want to be liked. You care about being seen as cooperative and agreeable. I get that it is a risk to come off as unlikable (especially for women).
But we all need to face up to reality. Every aspect of our lives that allow us to thrive are threatened if we don’t accept that sometimes we have uncomfortable communication.
Let me say it another way: we can’t have integrity, boundaries, morals, character, thoughts and feelings if we aren’t willing to express them when it’s important to do so.
Even if other people don’t like what we are saying.
Even if it will be awkward or there will be some feelings involved.
These are normal aspects of interpersonal dynamics. The goal is not to avoid the mess, the discomfort, or the potential for hurt or angry feelings.
The goal is to be clear, thoughtful, kind, skilled and well-intended. And it will still be messy anyway.
It takes a ton of energy to avoid something. The thoughts and feelings take up valuable real estate in our bodies and minds.
And nothing changes.
Instead of using your energy to avoid difficult interpersonal situations, I want you to get better at facing them. By doing it.
Getting these conversations started is often the hardest part. Here are 3 tips to make it a little easier to get words to come out of your mouth.
1. Be gentle, calm, and straightforward
The way you start the conversation matters. The mantra you need is this: gentle, calm, straight-forward.
Here’s what that means:
- Gentle: A neutral tone, devoid of hostility. Starting from a neutral place when we are calm sets the right tone. You are more likely to have someone be open to you and your message.
- Calm: Feeling as grounded as possible allows you access to your executive functioning skills, like reason and logic. When we are worked up, it escalates the conversation and decreases our reasoning skills.
- Straight-forward: Use words that tell the person what this is about. Being clear about what you are saying prevents confusion and assumptions.
Here’s what this might sound like:
“I’ve been reflecting on the conversation we had the other day and some parts of it are unsettling to me. I’d like us to talk some more.”
“I’d like us to talk about what happened the other day. I still have a lot of feelings, and it’s uncomfortable but I think it’s important to clear the air.”
“This is uncomfortable for me, but I’d like to address something that happened recently.”
Remember, saying something is typically much better than saying nothing, so if you stumble and stammer, it’s okay. Let the words out however they need to come.
2. Use curiosity
Whenever you need to approach someone who might be on edge or defensive, a very effective technique is to take a position of curiosity.
To be curious is to be open. It’s the opposite of making a judgement. Therefore, people do not feel blamed or shamed.
And that’s a much better way to start a conversation.
It might sound like this:
“I know I had some feelings about our last conversation, but I’m really curious about how you felt…”
“I keep thinking about what happened in the meeting. I’m really wondering how you are making sense of it?”
“I have noticed tension between us lately. What do you think that’s about?”
While you need to get to the point of being able to express your thoughts and feelings, starting with curiosity can really open up the conversation and allow the other person to more fully hear and consider your words when it’s your time to speak.
3. Name your intention
During difficult conversations one area of tension and distraction is the subtext: “what is this person’s motivation right now?!”
Wondering what people are getting at and why they are engaging us in the conversation makes it hard to focus on what is being said.
It also leaves room for assumptions.
One way to start a difficult conversation is to name your intention from the get-go. You need to be honest and sincere—don’t make up something that sounds good.
Naming your intention sounds like:
“I care about us having a good working relationship. I’d like to address some areas of tension so we can both move forward.”
“I know that we are both good people who got heated. I’d like to start that conversation again and see if we can both feel better about it.”
“I want to make sure I’m clear on what you said. I think I was taking things too personally and I’d like to try to better understand.”
Clarity on where you are coming from and what you want to discuss is respectful and it puts people more at ease.
Looking for more ideas on how to have difficult conversations? Download the 5-Day Confident Communication Action Plan and start communicating more effectively today.