Have you ever had to be the one to initiate a conversation or discussion about something difficult, concerning, or uncomfortable? Unfortunately, most people have been put in that situation at least once in their life and mishandling these types of sensitive scenarios can lead to even more significant problems.
A mix of delicacy and rationality is needed when handling tough talk, and many nuances and subtleties can make or break a productive and practical discussion. The trick is to know how to avoid the fallout and ensure favorable outcomes. Here are the 12 best ways to start difficult conversations and prevent the conflict of opinion!
1. Be Honest and Direct
On the other hand, open communication – especially in difficult conversations – can be super helpful. For example, it can:
- Encourage trust and honesty.
- Facilitate mature interactions
- Create positive and rewarding relationships
That said, it’s essential to be sensitive to an individual or cultural differences as well. For example, sometimes it’s acceptable to:
- Engage in back-and-forth conversation instead of confrontation
- Take time to make sure you’re both on the same page.
- Check whether both parties are mentally ready to engage in a difficult discussion.
2. Consider The Other Perspective
Despite our best efforts, there will always be something we’re particularly sensitive about. From there, it can be easy for you to jump to conclusions and have your fears take off with your thoughts.
But before you act on your knee-jerk reaction, consider these questions:
- Have you misunderstood them in some way?
- Where are they coming from?
- How have their past experiences influenced them?
- Are they being affected by something else in their life right now?
- Was there something you said that might have hurt or angered them?
While it’s good to have your needs and feelings as a priority, it’s also imperative you take the other person’s issues and desires into account as well. Then only can you come to a conclusion that will genuinely address everyone’s concerns!
3. Don’t Get Hung Up On Being Liked
Isn’t being liked a critical aspect when trying to avoid conflict and deal with difficult conversations? Surprisingly, it isn’t. Instead, what’s more, important is to:
- Have an open mind and attitude
- Be interested in learning from the other person
- Focus on mutual understanding and respect
While being liked is a positive bonus to have in a conversation, it can be hard to make the other person like you when they feel you’re not listening or supporting them in the first place!
4. Focus On Facts
Trying to make the other person feel and understand your frustration and anger may make you feel better isn’t productive – especially when both sides try to resolve a difficult problem. Instead:
- Take some time off to breathe and calm down
- Think about what happened and write it down as factually as possible
- Consider what role you may have played and how it contributed negatively to the situation
- Make plans to ensure you will not repeat the same pattern again
This way, you can ensure that you won’t let your emotions cloud and warp what happened and take responsibility for any unnecessary words, actions, or behavior!
5. Listen More Than You Speak
You may feel like you’re just preparing yourself for a difficult confrontation, but continually thinking and planning what you’re going to say isn’t very helpful. Instead, it often ends with you not listening to what the other person has to say!
In reality, there is no need for lengthy script preparation. All you have to do is:
- Stick to neutral and supportive statements or questions
- Be attentive and listen to the other party.
- Gather as much information as possible
- Pay attention to body language, behavior, and other various cues.
- Ask for clarifications and elaborations.
- Reflect to make sure you have understood them correctly
Mirroring and echoing can go a long way to making the other person feel heard. Indeed, it gives you a chance to see where they’re coming from. Best case scenario, all they need is for you to listen to them genuinely – no other conflict resolution necessary!
6. Focus On Behavior, Not Personality
Conflating behavior and personality is very easy to do. However, this can lead to uninformed judgments that may make the other person defensive and – perhaps rightfully – insulted.
A more productive thing to do would be to:
- Focus on their actions and behavior, not the person
- Ensure you have appropriate and suitable evidence, and stick to that
- Filter your statements to keep your feelings and their actions separate. For example, “When I heard you say X, it made me feel Y.”
Focusing on yourself and how you interpreted things allows the other party to understand how their actions may have come across to others. At the same time, it will enable you to express yourself while remaining factual and productive.
There’s nothing wrong with taking a break to recover from a rough confrontation. However, trying to avoid it or downplay it will only allow things to simmer, making it far more dangerous the next time you boil over.
It is often much healthier to confront and deal with the issue immediately or schedule a time and place for later resolution and stick to that date. If needed, plan out a general outline, your intentions, and your desired outcomes. Just don’t let it drag on until it no longer seems relevant. That unspoken fracture between the both of you may only be a breeding ground for frustration and resentment.
8. Sandwich It
Worried about how you can crack open this precarious topic without causing an explosion? Completely overwhelmed with anxiety that stems from potentially hurting someone sensitive? Consider the “bad news sandwich” layout. It consists of:
- Positive compliments or praise
- The actual topic you wish to tackle
- More positive compliments and affirmation
This ensures that it’s more comfortable to start the conversation and that the end will leave both parties more uplifted – even if it was a difficult one to deal with.
9. Take Breaks if Needed
Maybe it’s not for the lack of trying, but you somehow still find yourself at a dead end with the other party. In such a situation, you have to recognize that you’ll have to try something else like:
- Coming back another time, after the other person has cooled off and is more receptive to discussion
- Take a ten-minute break to breathe and perform self-care
- Rescheduling further meeting for another day, when you’ll both be rested and capable of trying again
That said, it’s essential to identify when you’ve tried your best and move on. Some people will refuse to respond to you, and frustrating as it is, there is nothing you can do about it.
10. Let Go of Fears
With closeness and vulnerability comes the opportunity for being hurt. It’s only natural, then, that all sorts of fears will spring up from it.
· Fear Of Hurting Others
All conversations are a two-way street. When trying to meet the other party in the middle, it’s essential to make sure it doesn’t come at the cost of neglecting your needs and feelings – even if it feels like it may hurt their emotions as a result.
· Fear Of Being Rejected
Rejection by peers and loved ones is a tricky thing, and you may end up avoiding conflict or confrontation at all costs. To let your feelings fester, however, will only make things worse. Instead, it’s healthier to confront the other person and express your feelings.
· Fears Related To Past Trauma
Maybe this isn’t your first rodeo, and you’ve walked away from past experiences with more wounds and a bitter taste in your mouth. In such cases, your priority should first be to learn how to resolve and heal from those past hurts first. Then only can you truly start moving forward in future situations.
While many of these fears have understandable and valid sources, it’s essential to make sure they don’t get in the way of conflict confrontation and resolution. You might think you’re preserving a relationship and protecting others. Still, very often, the unhealthy behaviors that stem from these fears inflict more pain and hurt on everyone in the long run.
11. Use “I” Statements
Accusing someone may be the last thing you intend to do, but your words may betray you if you’re not careful. As such, you need to utilize “I” sentences to focus on discussing and expressing yourself without blaming someone.
- “When X happens, I feel/think Y because…”
- “I felt/thought X when…”
- “I had assumed X because…”
12. Keep Positive Thinking
When you’re dealing with difficult conversations, positive thinking is a significant weapon in your arsenal! It’s what keeps you motivated to push forward when things seem to be grinding to a standstill. For example, positive thinking can:
- Give you a goal to strive towards
- Keeps your morale high
- Shift your mindset into one that looks for positives and growth opportunities
- It makes you more resilient during difficult discussions
- It helps you stay calm when tensions rise
As a result, you are more inclined to see difficult conversations and conflicts as a chance to learn how to communicate better and to resolve any issues that may otherwise fester unseen. This gives what would otherwise be negative situations a productive, positive bent – no matter what happens, there indeed is something you can take away from this!
Life’s reality is such that difficult conversations will happen, whether you want them to or not. Learning to manage those conversations and have them productively, with positive thinking and empathy, is the best way forward.
Of course, this is a skill that needs learning over time, and avoiding conflict of opinion sometimes isn’t possible. Regardless of the situation, you want to feel confident that you’ve done the best you can to initiate a productive, effective, and mindful discussion.