Crucial Conversation: How To Have That Difficult Conversation

Crucial conversation. We’ve all been there. Knowing you have to bring up a subject you don’t really want to. You know the feeling, when you have so many butterflies fluttering around in your stomach that it makes you feel sick?

When you have to have a crucial discussion like that, you go over and over it in your mind, rehearsing it, trying to choose the right tone, and the right expression.

Crucial conversation can be just horrible

Chances are, you’ve tried to bring it up (whatever it is) more than once, and bottled at the last minute – losing your nerve because you know that once you start you’ll have to continue.

And then you kick yourself because you’ve just lost another opportunity to broach it.

Am I right?

Of course, you could always ignore the problem, whatever it is. Brush it under the carpet and hope it goes away.

But the problem with burying your head in the sand is that all anyone else can see is an ass, which is a less polite way of saying that while the problem goes unresolved, it’s going to play over and over in your mind and affect your behaviour, usually in a negative way.

There are ways of dealing with it though.

(For ease of reading we have used ‘he’ in the examples, however these could just as easily apply to either gender and any situation/relationship)

Don’t let it fester

So it’s a hard subject to broach, but the fact is, if you don’t get it out in the open, crucial conversation will grow, sometimes into something completely unmanageable.

Let’s say your partner ‘playfully’ teases you about something, and it makes you feel bad so you get annoyed and tell him to stop.

He doesn’t, because after all, he’s only teasing.

And he does it again. And again. And again, and all the time your resentment is growing and festering until one day he says it once too often – and you explode.

But you won’t only be letting all your anger out over whatever it is he’s been saying – oh no, it’ll be about so much more. Every little thing he’s said or done wrong over the past few days and weeks will come bubbling to the surface and spill over in an eruption of fury.

And yet, if only you had addressed the situation at the time, right at the beginning when he insisted on ‘teasing’ you, this outpouring of resentment could have been avoided.

If someone says something to you that hurts, and you don’t like it, let them know that it’s not acceptable.

“I feel hurt when you speak to me like that, and I’d rather you didn’t do it.”

Wording it like this puts the onus on you, and doesn’t feel as if you are blaming the other party, and therefore avoids putting the other person on the defensive.

Set a date for a difficult crucial conversation

Bringing up a difficult subject is not something to be attempted in the heat of the moment.

If one (or both) of you is tired, or angry, or stressed, then it’s not going to end well.

Pre-warning the other party that you need to talk gives you both a chance to prepare – chances are, he will have a good idea of what it’s about and will be able to get in the right frame of mind.

A word of warning – don’t utter the words “We need to talk” while giving him ‘the look’. You know the one, the Paddington Bear stare? All that will do is make him anxious and on edge, and that is not conducive to a rational conversation.

When you tell him you need to talk, say it in such a way that he knows you’re not going to attack him.

Something along the lines of “Can we sit down together tonight/go out for dinner/ a quiet drink, and talk? I think we need to, just to clear the air/sort some things out.”

No ifs or buts

Never follow anything with ‘but’. It negates the previous sentence completely; even more so when it follows an apology.

“I’m sorry I cheated on you, but…”

But what? “But you made me do it? But you’re lousy in bed? But I was bored?”

All that is doing is relinquishing you of all guilt, and turning the whole thing around on your partner, and that’s not fair.

It doesn’t have to be an apology either.

“I like the fact that you have a healthy appetite, but…”

Uh oh…”But you’ve put on too much weight?”

You see where we’re going with this?

If you’ve cheated, you’ve cheated. Just apologise for it, and take the backlash.

“I’m so sorry I cheated.” That’s it. You can say sorry, and talk it out, but (and there’s that word again) NEVER try and justify it with a ‘but’.

Although we’ve used cheating as an example here, it could apply to any given situation – money, parenting, housework, romance (or lack of it)…take responsibility for your actions, and kick but(t).

Know when to stop talking

Ok, so you’re sitting down, ready to talk. And that’s what you should do…talk.

Don’t shout, don’t use an aggressive tone of voice, or gestures.

And once you have said your piece, let him speak.

Don’t interrupt with “Yes, but…” (you see, there’s that pesky word again; see how negative it is?) Just let him talk, and wait for your cue to reply.

Be calm, be diplomatic, (but at the same time don’t be railroaded into agreeing to something you don’t want).

Be optimistic about your difficult conversation

If you go into any difficult but crucial conversation all doom and gloom, the likelihood of something good coming from it is minimal, it could well become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What I mean by that is if you sit down for ‘the talk’ with the idea in your head that it’s not going to go well, that it spells the end of the relationship, for example, then you are setting the tone for the whole thing.

However, go into it with the mind-set that this is the best thing for it, that this talk will clear the air, then in all likelihood, that is exactly what you will achieve.

Watch your body language

Whatever your mouth might be saying, your body language could be saying something quite different.

For example, folding your arms across your body is, quite literally, putting a barrier between you and him while having a difficult conversation.

Similarly, standing with one or both hands on your hips signifies aggression. Neither of these stances encourages openness and willingness to resolve issues.

Take a seat, with chairs facing each other, and lean in as you talk. Not too much obviously, but enough to show that you’re not trying to put a distance between you.

Having ‘those’ conversations, whatever the subject matter may be, is never easy. But by being open and honest, non-accusatory and by not being judgemental about the other person’s actions, you should find the path a little easier to tread.

Good luck!

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