Mastering Hard Conversations (Instead of Running from Hard Truths)

I hate having tough conversations. I will avoid a person for hours until I am able to figure out how to bring up a new subject or distract them (or mostly myself) from whatever the issue was. We have to have hard conversations all the time and with people that are important. It wouldn’t be a hard conversation if you just had to tell some stranger that they were a jerk. No, hard conversations are hard because they matter. They matter to us and they can cart the course of a relationship depending on how successful or royally awful they are in the end.

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Hard conversations mark turning points in our lives. This is the difference between being a mom and her little girl and being a mother and adult daughter. Two friends go into a hard conversation and come out as bros, or feeling like sisters, the friendship is now lasting and more important to both people. A couple goes into a hard conversation and they come out stronger than ever.

A hard conversation means that growth and change is happening and those things are never comfortable. The way we feel going into these moments can be agonizing. The anxiety that builds up in your body makes you feel sick, your stomach flips, you get a headache, you keep clenching your fists, you clench your jaw, you can’t see straight. The anxiety builds until you either break down and talk about what’s bothering you, or you talk yourself out of it.

We already know what happens when you have the courage to say what needs to be said. But when you don’t, when you decide that you would rather avoid the point all together then things can get ugly. Avoidance sends a message to yourself that your feelings are not important enough to do something about. You are writing yourself off and your self worth takes a hit because of that. Avoidance also doesn’t take care of the issue, whether we pin it on ourselves for being out of line or upset without a good reason does not matter. We are still left with a pile of tension in the room and someone is going to have to wade though that sooner or later.

Obviously the best course is to build our courage to talk about what is bothering us.  And that is hard. I literally walked in and out of a room 3 times before I could talk to my mom about something that had been bothering me for years. Whatever you need to do before talking it out. Power pose maybe? But at any rate, how do you have these conversations well?

Give yourself some space and think about what you are really upset about.
You are not really mad that Joe didn’t do the dishes last night, you are mad because you feel like he doesn’t value your time.

Outline what your feelings really are and identify their trigger.
The trigger was not doing the dishes and while you still want them to get done that is not the real problem. Your feelings of being invalidated are the real problem and dirty dishes are a raw spot for that vulnerable feeling.

Use “I” statements to explain your feelings.
Finger pointing and emotional hurricanes accomplish nothing. They feel good for about 2 min and then you feel terrible. Use the template at the end of the post to tell the other person how you feel, when you feel that way, and why you felt that way.

Give them some space to process what you said.
Often when we talk about what we are really feeling, not the obvious “I am pissed because you left the dishes dirty. Again,” but the more subtle and honest, “I feel like my time isn’t important to you,” the other person has no idea they have hurt us. They know we are mad or that we are acting “weird” but they don’t know the depth of our pain. Give them time to let that sink in and space to ask for clarification. The people that mean the most to use don’t want us to feel hurt.

Follow those steps and that will get you started with the tough conversation. After that it is all up to you. You got this! After the ball gets rolling, things usually take care of themselves and words flow like the need to flow.1

 

“I feel ________________, when you __________________, because _____________________.”

Ex: “I feel angry when you don’t do the dishes at the end of the day because it seems to me that the time I spend working isn’t worthwhile enough and that I must also do the dishes to contribute to the family.”

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Notes:

  1.  Google + Author, https://plus.google.com/u/0/102851063175689428953

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