We’ve all avoided difficult conversations, or worse, engaged in toxic communication patterns that made things worse. The cause for it was a disagreement with a friend, a loved one, or perhaps with someone at work. Wherever it was, you probably experienced some stress about dealing with it. Well, you can relax, because you’re not alone — and help and wisdom are abundant. Here’s how to have difficult conversations with people in your life when disagreement (inevitably) occurs.
Most relationships have tensions from time to time. We’re more likely to resolve or ignore them at work because we have to get the job done. In our personal lives, however, we only have ourselves to answer to. That lack of accountability can let us off the hook, and so we rationalize the situation. It results in us putting up with it until it gets worse. So, when you acknowledge to yourself that something is amiss, you’re on your way to sorting it out. The next part is about recognizing the exact problem.
You know you need to have that conversation, but you’re unsure what the real problem is. Did it start with an argument or upset, or was it a feeling that something’s not quite right. This Landmark Education model of an upset may help you ask the right questions to get started.
What happened? Was it related to one, two, or all three of these reasons?
Once you pinpoint the issue, the next steps get more straightforward.
Many experts like Brené Brown, Simon Sinek, and Judy Ringer talk about the blocks that initially stop us. Again, once you acknowledge your part, your actions get simpler. Check out these example reactions. Do you recognize any of them?
Regardless of these obstacles, it is still possible to reclaim your peace of mind. And as ironic as it may sound, difficult conversations can improve relationships.
Your purpose, values, and attitudes are essential in every aspect of life. In relating to others, they are crucial. But they’re like the north star guiding your way — especially when you’re feeling nervous or challenged. So be clear about your intentions and values first. Then set an attitude of curiosity and inquiry to lead your way.
Do you want to restore your friendship or to criticize them? Are you more interested in being right or being in love again?
If it is integrity, then be honest. Compassion? Then be kind. And if it is understanding, then listen.
Have you decided things about them before you know their point of view or the facts? How do you know they don’t care anymore? Did they know you felt like that?
So far, you have:
Now, you’re not sure how to start. Below are some examples of conversation openers you can use — but choose your time wisely. If necessary, set it up for a later time. A well-rested and properly fed time of day is better than the tired and hungry hours.
Once the conversation begins, our natural tendency is to be vague and hurried. It can be awkward and uncomfortable, so remembering curiosity and inquiry at this point is very useful — and so is breathing!
Getting to the specific point, as Simon Sinek suggests, creates clarity immediately. Using the Feelings, Behavior, and Impact (FBI) method makes the issue clear for both parties to respond to:
“When you raised your voice at me yesterday, I got nervous and couldn’t think straight. I’m worried that if you keep yelling at me that way, I’ll stop trusting you.”
Feelings — I got nervous and couldn’t think straight
Behavior — you raised your voice at me yesterday (specific action and specific day)
Impact — I will stop trusting you
After you have said your FBI statement, stop talking. Breathe and listen to their response.
As Sinek states, you may have to repeat your statement a couple of times for them to understand the impact of it. And that’s okay.
Staying the course with your intentions, values, and curiosity throughout the process will reveal the next steps. It may be that you have a request or ask of each other. It may take some problem solving by both of you. Whatever happens, you must pat yourself on the back for being courageous to lead the way in your relationship.
Before you end the conversation, check-in with your intentions. Did you complete what you set out to do, or is there more to say? If it went well, congratulations. If either of you needs more time, arrange it. But know that you have laid the best groundwork possible for your continued conversation and a better version of that relationship. And that’s very well done.
Having difficult conversations can be emotionally draining, but dealing with gaslighting tactics are on a whole other level. Here’s how to spot emotional gaslighting in relationships.