Tips for starting a hard conversation

by Jacqui Brauman

Tips for starting a hard conversation

by Jacqui Brauman

by Jacqui Brauman

The earlier we can be starting a hard conversation, the better. 

I know that a lot of us are avoidant of conflict because we are scared of mainly upsetting other people. We want to keep other people happy. 

However, if we leave hard conversations for too long, the emotions and assumptions around them can escalate and they actually turn into a dispute or conflict. Whereas if we have the difficult conversation early, it might not become an issue in the first place.

So what’s the best way of starting a hard conversation? 

Well, I’m sure you don’t like being caught unawares. So let’s not try starting a hard conversation on someone who’s not expecting it. 

I really don’t like when someone emails me or calls me and says, “I need to talk to you.” It puts me straight away into a state where I feel very unprepared and uncertain. 

Try “I need to talk about this particular thing” or “I need to talk to you and clear the air about how I’m feeling about such and such,” and say, “Can we catch up at whatever time this afternoon?” Be considerate. Look at their diary so that you’re not having them to coordinate this for you because that can just be another annoyance.

Be organized and considerate. Invite them when it’s going to be convenient to them. If it is your partner, in the morning, you may say, “We need to talk about X, Y, Z bill” or “We need to talk about organizing,” whatever it is, “Can we talk about that while I’m making dinner tonight” or something like that so that they have time to prepare, “Can we talk about it tomorrow night? Can we go out and talk about this?” Make it a date if you need to, if you feel like you need to be in public.

So, secondly, tell the person what you want to talk about, when you’re setting a time to do that. Approach someone, tell them, “I need to talk to you about X.” Make it about yourself, so don’t say, “Your behaviour in relation to X.” 

The third tip is around making sure they understand the importance of it to you. 

If you know that there’s already some emotional angst around this situation, framing the invite as “Look, it’s really important to me that we clear the air about X/ or we solve this /or we talk about this.” 

Express that it is important to you and so you don’t want to let it go. Specifically say it because I think we leave a lot of things implicit, but we actually want to be explicit when we say things because assumption can be the worst generator of negative feelings around something. We do tend to a negative bias and we assume the worst when we are filling the gap of uncertainty. 

Expressing the importance of something indicates to someone that you are in this and you’re not walking away and their feelings is important just as much as resolving the situation.

Three tips to starting a hard conversation so you don’t end up in conflict in the first place: 

1. Set time for it. 

2. Be specific about what the situation is that you want to talk about, and 

3. Express the importance of it for you.

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