☹ Your partner watches so much porn that it’s impeding on your sex life
☹ Your friend got a bf and seems to have completely lost their personality
☹ Your partner says embarrassing things in the company of other people
These are just some of the emails I get from people who ask: “how do I talk to them about this?” Every single one of us, at one time or another, will be in a situation where we really need to sit down and talk with someone about something that is very hard to talk about, uncomfortable, sensitive, or otherwise challenging.
Here are 10 tips that have helped me to smooth out tough conversations.
1. Be intentional about timing
For situations where emotions are running high, it helps to reserve *the talk* for a time when you are both at ease, comfortable, not sleepy, not angry, not about to leave, not hungry, etc. Get as close to possible to the conditions required for a rational, level-headed conversation. Don’t spring it on them or open the conversation as a confrontation after an incident.
2. Think first, talk second
The reason why opening the conversation as a confrontation usually fails is because you’re fueled by strong negative emotions. That’s ok, it’s normal, it’s human. But in the case of conflict resolution, it typically doesn’t serve us beyond feeling satisfying. If there is something that has been building up in a relationship, take plenty of time to think about how you feel about it and how you could communicate that to them. Given the personality and characteristics of that person, what’s the best way to let them know what’s going on? It helps to know what you want to ask from them, make sure it’s realistic, and think about how you might propose your solution. And of course, your solution could be to find a solution.
3. Be aware of your tone
Your tone sets the precedent for the entire conversation. Sometimes it’s justifiable to be angry and accusatory. Choose those times wisely! I find that, more often than not, a gentle non-accusatory entry to the conversation is much more effective.
4. Open the conversation gently
Similar to tone is what you choose to say at the start. “You are such a bitch I can’t even hang out with you anymore” is not going to glide over as well as “I really miss hanging out like old times”. Avoid attacks. Instead, start with how you feel and go from there.
5. Phrase your questions strategically & in good intent
In arguments, questions (especially the sarcastic ones) are often used as a tool of attack. Stay sincere with your questions. Try to frame them in a way that’s not going to make the other person out to be the bad guy before they have a chance to defend themselves. This is just going to put them on the defense. When someone’s on the defense, they aren’t listening to what you’re saying.
6. Own your claims
When you make claims and statements, try to qualify that they are YOUR opinion, YOUR perception, YOUR feelings, YOUR desires, etc when appropriate. For instance: “To me it seemed like”, “In my opinion it”, “I feel like”, “From where I’m coming from”, etc. This helps to keep the other person off the defensive because this language dulls the tendency to sound accusatory when we’re talking about a problem we have with someone/something.
Speaking of which….listening is really important. In life, I try to make sure I’m listening just as much as I’m speaking. I don’t want to hog the mic. Give them a chance to talk and listen to them without judgment. Try to sincerely understand where they’re coming from so you can effectively assess what you should do.
8. Avoid angry outbursts
When you’re yelling, screaming, calling each other names, etc you are no longer hearing each other. You’re just letting off steam in a way that will further complicate your situation. If you become angry or frustrated, pause and take a moment to breath. Let your heartbeat and your anger come down to a level where you can properly communicate. Similarly, learn to recognize when the situation has escalated too much to continue and calmly walk away. You can always revisit it after a cool down.
Flexibility will solve so many more problems than “my way or the highway”. In problem solving, work together to find solutions that work for both of you. Value eachother’s satisfaction in the situation and recognize that compromise can sometimes be a looong process. In addition, it not a bad idea to have a healthy base of things you just won’t compromise. (i.e. I will not compromise my safety, I will not compromise my goals, etc). Learn to distinguish between things that aren’t up for compromise and things that you just don’t want to compromise.
10. Follow up on your conversation
After a particularly hard conversation, follow up on it after a day or two. This might mean apologizing if you said things you didn’t mean, it might mean showing appreciation for their receptiveness, it might mean telling them that you still feel weird about it, etc. This will help bring closure to the conversation or to further communicate the need for more discussion. Some ways to follow up are:
“I feel really bad about what I said yesterday, you mean a lot to me and I don’t want to hurt you. Will you accept my apology?”
“I appreciate you listening to my thoughts yesterday, that was really bothering me and I feel much better now.”
“I’m glad we got to talk yesterday, but I still feel uneasy about it. I hope we can talk about it more in the future.”
What strategies have you used in conflict to help you get your needs met?