Real Talk: How to Have Tough Conversations

I just got off the phone with my best friend and I am buzzzzzzzzzzzing!

You know when you have one those great conversations? The kind that leaves you feeling refreshed, inspired and starts turning all sorts of gears in your brain? This was like that.

Honest. Open. Fun. Intentional. Soooooo clarifying.

I felt seriously empowered when I hung up the phone. The weight of self-pressure lifted from my shoulders. I realized my “stress” was really just me sabotaging myself. I reframed my anxiety and felt an overwhelming sense of presence, patience and excitement.

So needed. So grateful.

That’s why I love my friends. We have such authentic relationships and feel totally comfortable expressing ourselves in a genuine, real way. I feel so supported by my tribe and value our connections immensely.

I felt so great after our talk because I needed to express what was going on for me to someone who I knew would really get it. It was an easy chat because I know and love my girl so much. We’ve had so many serious heart-to-hearts, so opening up to her isn’t hard.

But, sometimes talking can be tough. When we’re in the middle of a work dilemma, friend drama or facing a hurdle in our relationship, self-expression can get confusing and, at times, down right terrifying.

But, truth is, those conversations are the most important.

They force us out of our comfort zone and into the heart of the issue. They push us through barriers and blocks, helping us evolve into more enlightened human beings. They teach us things about ourselves, and others, we’d never discover otherwise.

Authentic communication is key for growth.

Yes, tough conversations are scary and intimidating, but if you don’t have them, the strain will build, the issue will get worse and the relationship could be seriously damaged.

You might think you can bury it for a while, but the problem will resurface, often in a stronger, more powerful way.

Think of it this way, staying quiet is way more dangerous than speaking up. So it’s best to get used to talking tough. The more you practice, the less freaky it will be, I promise.

Next time you find yourself needing to have a tough conversation, use these tips to help you stay calm and speak your peace with dignity and grace.

1. Get clear on your intention and make sure it’s positive.

Before you get all confrontational it’s important to spend some time getting really clear on your intention. Why are you even having this conversation? Is it because you’re not happy with your boyfriend’s lack of empathy or you’re pissed about a coworker’s snarky gossip? Whatever the issue is, figure out your intention before your bring it up, and make sure it’s positive. For example, if you’re feeling like your boyfriend is giving you the cold shoulder, the intention behind the conversation could be to strengthen your connection or to see if his behaviour is the result of something deeper.

Just make sure the intention is positive. If it’s not positive (ie. you really want to give your bitchy co-worker a taste of her own sass) than keep quiet and revaluate your motives.

2. Share your positive intention with the other person at the start.

Even if you’re bringing up some painful stuff, it’s really important to frame the conversation in a positive light. So, before you unload, share the positive intention you have for the conversation with the other person. This will put you both at ease and set the tone for a mature and thoughtful discussion. It will also help cool the aggressive, defensive behavior that is so common during tough conversations by taking the heat out of the discussion.

3. Speak calmly, positively and stay focused on a solution.

As you share your thoughts and feelings, be aware of your tone of voice, body language and words. Speak slowly and calmly. Resist the urge to rant about the other person’s character flaws or attack them, and always keep the conversation geared toward a solution. It’s really easy to pick people apart, but that will do absolutely nothing to solve your problem or move you forward. If you feel yourself getting heated, back off and breathe. Center yourself and bring the conversation back to the positive intention. It’s also helpful to start out on a positive note by highlighting attributes you appreciate about the other person before moving into the problems.

4. Ask open-ended questions.

Do not diagnose the other person or make assumptions about what you think is best for them. We are all on an individual journey, so use this conversation as an opportunity to learn more about whomever you’re speaking with. The best way to do this is by asking open-ended questions. Asking yes or no questions can put people on the spot and make them feel threatened. Rarely are complicated issues black or white. Open-ended questions allow people to reflect and dig deep. You’ll get a way better picture of their point of view if you keep the conversation open ended.

5. Listen deeply.

Remember, this a conversation, not a monologue of all your grievances. Active listening is key to finding a solution. When the other person begins to share with you, make eye contact and really focus on what they’re saying. Often we listen just to respond. We miss the important points the other person is making because we’re too busy retaliating in our minds, just waiting for the right moment to jump back in with our point. This is so dangerous and way to common. The best thing you can do to make sure it doesn’t happen? Give the other person space. When they’re done speaking, pause. Don’t immediately begin to speak, but let a moment of silence linger. This gives the other person a chance to finish their thought completely and add anything they feel is necessary. It also gives you a moment to truly absorb what they said and collect yourself before continuing.

6. Say thank-you.

No matter the outcome, thank the other person for speaking with you. Let them know how much you value them and how much you appreciate them taking the time to talk things through with you. Even if things get a little heated, or the outcome isn’t what you expected, there is always a lesson to be learned, and that lesson is something to be grateful for. Saying thank-you also clears the air and ensures that there is no bad vibes or awkwardness between you. This is important not only for your close relationships – parents, friends and significant others – but for acquaintances and formal relationships, too. You never know when you’re going to need someone’s help in the future so it’s best to keep your karma slate clean.

Now, I’m curious. Did you find this article helpful? What advice would you give someone before they engage in a tough conversation? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to get your perspective on this!

With so much love,

Alex