by Kristin Kuiper, LMSW, MSW
Ugh. Have you ever felt a pit deep inside of your stomach as you’ve thought about having a difficult conversation? Thinking about asking your boss for a raise but know how she gets irritated easily? Wanting to talk with your child’s teacher about concerns over how your child has been treated in class? Knowing that things are not the same between you and your best friend and you probably need to talk about that elephant in the room? Enter nausea, right? Mustering up the courage to have these types of conversations is really tough. And feeling confident about how to have them can be even harder. Sometimes it’s easier to think about avoiding the person, place, or thing for a while, hoping it all blows over. But you know it probably won’t.
Here’s a simple little rule that I use and recommend when thinking about whether to avoid or confront a difficult issue. A while back, one of my friends introduced me to her “three day rule” for friendships. In a friendship, if something in a friendship or important relationship is bothering her or nagging at her for more than three days, she knows it needs to be addressed. I think that in a marriage, a “24 hour rule” is a healthy barometer of letting something go or addressing it with your spouse. After you decide if the issue or concern is something you can truly let go of (or not), then it is time to figure out how to have the conversation.
Often, when we have a tough talk with someone, we want to prove something, we want to send a very clear message. This backfires when the person we are talking with feels attacked and gets defensive. The conversation often ends with both people feeling misunderstood and frustrated, even angry. The key to approaching a hard conversation in a way that sets it up for success is to invite the other person in to the conversation with us—to move away from blame. Sharing your point of view and feelings is important and so is understanding that how we view the problem could change if we truly seek to understand the other’s point of view. Realizing that each person brings different realities and understandings of the same event to the conversation can help in figuring out solutions together.
In coming blogs, I’ll talk more about the elements of having that tough talk. In the meantime, think about the challenging conversations that you’ve had or think you might need to have. What has worked? What hasn’t worked? What are questions you have when thinking about how to bring up something difficult with someone in your life?
For more details on this, check out this book, Difficult Conversations.