The magical art of having difficult conversations

How many of us have broken up with someone by text? Or, gone to the baby shower of your partner’s cousin’s brother’s girlfriend because you didn’t want to tell them that you really didn’t want to go? How many of us moan about something at work but never tell the manager what is bothering us? You all must have done one of the above, and all the pain / annoyance / discomfort caused by doing any of the things above could have been avoided … if we just had one difficult conversation.

So, why do we avoid those difficult conversations so often? There are a few reasons that can be applied to all areas of our lives but that all derive from fear. We avoid difficult conversations because we fear we’ll be disliked, we fear we’ll upset someone or we fear the awkwardness of the conversation itself.It’s taken me a few years to master the art of having difficult conversations, but here are some things to consider and how they can be applied to real life situations:

1) What’s the risk or cost of not having that difficult conversation?

If we take work for example, there’s lots of things that might annoy us in the workplace. For example, if your colleague always gossips about Carol from marketing, and quite frankly you don’t care how many Tinder dates Carol has been on this year already. All it takes is one difficult conversation with your colleague, where you say to her ‘I don’t really like discussing Carol’s dating habits, it makes me feel uncomfortable and I’d prefer it if we could talk about other things’. What do you have to lose? Nothing really, she might be a bit shocked but she sure as hell won’t be discussing Carol’s escapades with you from now on! The risk of not telling her is that you continue to be frustrated and annoyed, every single day.

The same goes for challenging people who use racist, homophobic or sexist language, I challenge this every time, the culprits are always shocked but they sure as hell don’t use those words around me again.

2) Being courageous VS Being an arseholeThere is a fine line between being courageous enough to have that difficult conversation and being an arsehole during that conversation.

Take your partner’s cousin’s brother’s girlfriend’s baby shower that you really don’t want to go to. You could just tell him or her the truth that you really don’t want to go (because you would much rather spend a Saturday afternoon with friends and at 27 years old, baby showers just aren’t your thing). Would this upset him / her? Only you will know the answer, make sure your courage to have difficult conversations doesn’t surpass your ability to be kind and tactful. You could just say that you can’t make it to the baby shower?

3) The most difficult conversation is saying NO

When you need to say no, it is important to just say it and leave it at that. You don’t need to add detail, find excuses, apologise, get talked round. No means no, it doesn’t mean ‘no, but you can persuade me otherwise’, for example:

A. Can you baby sit for me on Friday?

B: No.

A: Oh go on, it’ll be overnight so really easy.

B: No

A: I’ll pay you. I never go out. If you were a real friend you would.

B: No.

A. *shocked pause* Ok then.

4) Will they still like me?

We all want to be liked. The truth is, not everyone is going to like you, for a variety of reasons- you might remind them of their ex, your personality might just get on their nerves. But, in my experience, the courage to be honest with people and have difficult and awkward conversations mostly captures respect above anything. And, it’s pretty hard to dislike someone that you really respect.

So, go and free yourself from all the things that you avoid discussing!

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