We've all been there when it comes to having a difficult conversation. You've had an argument with a close friend and need to patch things up. Breaking up with someone because it just isn't working. A work colleague who you're just not clicking with.

These are all awkward situations where our first reaction is to just avoid it altogether. However, avoiding these difficult conversations doesn't help and usually results in an already-weird situation getting even worse. But if you handle these conversations in the correct way, it'll help everyone understand each other a bit better and may even improve the relationship.

So without further ado, here are some tips on how to have those difficult conversations that you want to avoid but know you can't.

Listen, like, actually listen

Don't get caught up thinking about what you're going to say to the other person when they're talking to you. Really listen to what they're saying and understand where they're coming from because it will show that you're properly engaged and it may help you see the situation from a different angle. Most importantly, don't talk over them. It's a respectful and constructive conversation, not a debate.

Think about the issue from the other person's POV

It takes two to tango and a difficult conversation is no different (though it involves fewer dance moves). It's easy to get caught up in how the issue affects you while forgetting that the other person may also be feeling hurt or awkward as well. Try to think about the issue from the other person's perspective and ask yourself some important questions like:

  • What are reasons the person might have acted the way they did?

  • Has this person done/said anything like this before, or is this totally out of character?

  • Is there anything else going on in their life that might be a factor?

  • Did I do anything that may have hurt/confused/angered them that might account for what’s happened?

Remember, it's not all about you.

Be direct and clear about what you want and how you feel

What makes difficult conversations, well, difficult is trying to convey what you want and feel clearly. Try to stay by explaining how you feel and why, what you want from the discussion (An apology? Acknowledgement? Change in behaviour?), and make sure to use "I" statements (like "I feel really upset" rather than "You don't care about me") as using "you" will make the other person feel attacked and thus less likely to listen.

While there's no need to write a script for what you want to say, it can be helpful to plan out what you're going to say beforehand so you don't get too nervous. Just remember that if things aren't going well then it's okay to take a break and revisit another time when everyone has calmed down a bit.

Agree to disagree

As much as we like to have a happy ending to all difficult discussions, not all conversations end on a positive note as there are just some issues, situations and behaviours that can't be talked through, regardless of how constructive and respectful you are. But that's perfectly okay.

Agreeing to disagree doesn't mean you agree with the other person, you're acknowledging that the conversation has hit a natural endpoint where no more progress is possible and you're now protecting yourself by picking which battles to fight and which ones to move on from.

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Information sourced from Reach Out, Harvard Business Review,

Image credit: The Office

All content is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice.

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