How to Have a Difficult Conversation

How to Make a Difficult Conversation More Effective

couple talking on couch
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Do you have a good friend who has been doing something that has been getting on your nerves and you want to confront them about it but you don't know how? Or do you need to let your spouse know something important and you want to make sure they listen?

If you have a pressing issue with someone that you wish to confront, but anticipate it being a difficult conversation, this article offers four steps to help you pull the trigger and have that conversation.

Don't swallow your needs or sit on it, take care of yourself and have the conversation.

Step 1: Schedule a time to talk

Find a time when you both have a good chunk of time so that you will have the space to discuss what you need to say and also have time to listen to the other person's response. There will likely be a hearty discussion, and if it really is about something important, you will want to avoid rushing it.

By scheduling a time to talk, you are giving the other person the message that what you have to say is important. You are also implicitly committing to yourself that you are going to have this conversation, in case you have been putting it off or if there is any part of you that wants to run away from the issue. When we schedule things, they are that much more likely to happen, so let the other person know you have something important to talk about and find a good time for it.


Step 2: Use a softened start-up

A softened start-up involves bringing up a difficult topic with a gentle and calm demeanor. Relationship expert and researcher Dr. John Gottman, who coined the term, notes that the majority of conversations, regardless of the topic, end the way they begin. Before bringing up your issue, take a deep breath and proceed with caution.

Be wary of any tendency you may have to be accusative or harsh, and be nice.

Step 3: Make eye contact

The importance of eye contact cannot be overstated. So many people are trying to have difficult conversations over text messages and email. While the written word may feel safer as a form of confrontation, the use of one medium alone, stripped of many human components such as eye contact, is bound to open your message up for misinterpretation. When you make eye contact with someone, you are much more likely to understand and empathize with them. In fact, mirror neurons in the front of our brain, which we access via the eye, exist to help us connect with and understand others. We are more socially and emotionally intelligent and when we are making eye contact, so make sure to engage this important resource when you are having your difficult conversation.

Step 4: Listen

If you are bringing up something difficult, chances are, the person with whom you are talking is probably going to want to give you his or her two (or fifty) cents as well.

It is crucial that after you have said your piece, you take a step back and listen. You may be surprised with what you hear.

These four steps should help you set the space and tone for a fruitful conversation. By holding the person's gaze with your own and listening to them, you will hopefully not only be understood, but will understand his or her perspective as well.

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