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5 Tips to Make Difficult Conversations Easier

5 Tips to Make Difficult Conversations Easier

Whatever the context, difficult conversations are… well, difficult. Very few of us relish the thought of having challenging or anxiety-provoking conversations, yet often these are the most important, life-defining conversations we’re likely to have. Whether you’re facing a potentially tricky rendezvous in your personal or professional life, here are five tips to help make difficult conversations easier:

1. Have the conversation sooner rather than later

One of the most common ways we deal with anxiety is avoidance. If you want to keep your relationship with the person in question, however, trying to dodge the conversation is not a good plan. In the long run, avoidance usually leads to one of two outcomes. The first is that you reach a breaking point and snap. Annoyance, anger, resentment, hurt, and more can all build up over time if a situation isn’t resolved and processed. When those feelings become overwhelming, you’re more likely to blame, shame, and criticize, and less likely to be able to engage in a productive dialogue with the other person.

The second potential outcome is that you wait so long that the natural window for the conversation passes. When this happens, and you do eventually have the conversation, it could leave the other person wondering whether there’s anything else you want to talk to them about but haven’t. Delaying the conversation can damage the trust in the relationship, and leave the other person wondering where they really stand with you.

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2. Avoid blame, judgements, and criticism

As I mentioned above, when hidden feelings become overwhelming, we’re more likely to blame, judge, and criticize the other person, which can be toxic to our relationship with them.

Blame involves putting the majority responsibility for the situation and your feelings onto the other person: for example “You made me feel sad.” Judgement involves attributing labels to the person, incident, or event: for example, “You’re stupid” or “That was a stupid thing to do.”

These three elements are highly damaging to conversations and won’t make a challenging conversation any easier. When blame, shame (as a consequence of judgement), and criticism enter a conversation, the person on the receiving end is likely to feel attacked and will focus on trying to defend themselves, rather than on coming to a peaceful resolution.

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3. Use “I-messages”

When we’re feeling anxious, upset, hurt, or angry, it’s easy to focus on what the other person has said and done, rather than our experience. This is a surefire path to the three conversation no-nos above and will leave the other person far less receptive to what you’re trying to say. To avoid getting into a heated debate of ‘You said X,’ ‘Well you said Y,’ forget about pointing out the other person’s wrongs and stick to reporting your own experience instead. In practice, this might look like: “When you told me to shut up, I felt very hurt,” or “I felt angry when you said you would email me that piece of work on Monday but didn’t send it until Wednesday.”

By talking in terms of your feelings and needs, you’re also owning your own experience rather than placing the responsibility for your feelings onto the other person. This helps the conversation steer clear of “I want you to do this/stop doing this” and instead allows you to express yourself and what you want, without making demands.

4. Focus on specific feedback

Notice in the examples above that the speaker uses specific and objective actions and events. When emotions are running high, it’s tempting to slip into generalizations like, ‘You never help me with the housework,’ ‘no one cares,’ and ‘I’m always the one left to deal with this.’ Words like ‘always,’ ‘never,’ ‘everyone,’ ‘no one,’ and other absolutes are red flags in communication. First of all, they’re not specific. Secondly, they’re unlikely to be objectively true: very few people ‘always’ or ‘never’ behave a certain way — plus we’re not mind-readers so we’re unlikely to know what ‘everyone’ or ‘no one’ is thinking or feeling.

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Stick to specific events or instances and the other person will be far more likely address the concerns or issues you’re raising.

5. Listen and reflect

Expressing your feelings and needs is only half the conversation; the other half involves listening to the other person and ensuring that you understand their perspective. The most effective way to do this is to reflect back what they are saying and to genuinely empathize with their position.

In practice, this would look something like: “I hear you saying that you’ve been really stressed recently and I understand you found it hard to meet the project deadline with everything that’s been going on at home.” This doesn’t mean you have to be happy about the situation; you can empathize with the other person and have your own feelings about the situation and their behavior too. If the other person feels seen, heard, and understood, they are far more likely to work with you in a difficult conversation than against you.

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What are your tips for making difficult conversations easier? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

More by this author

Hannah Braime

Hannah is a coach who believes the world is a richer place when we have the courage to be fully self-expressed.

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Last Updated on October 20, 2020

10 Principles for Success to Start Living Your Dream Life

10 Principles for Success to Start Living Your Dream Life

Are you stressed out and overwhelmed, wishing you had more time to do the things that really matter? Are you ready to do something better, something special in your life or your career? If you’re ready to take responsibility for your life, then you need to tap into some principles for success.

Many people—maybe you—stopped following their passion and purpose way too early in life because their talents were ignored, minimized, or shamed. They didn’t have the chops to win an American Idol competition or nab an Olympic gold medal, so they stopped expressing their inborn gifts altogether.

You don’t need to be an award winner to rock your life. Living your dream life is about discovering your superpowers and feeling vibrant and joyful when you use them. It’s about owning what makes you unique and finding like-minded people to support you.

Here are 10 success principles to help you reach your goals and live a rich life on your terms.

1. Get a Hobby to Move Closer to Your Dreams

If you never became a professional dancer or a world-renowned author, it does NOT mean you should stop dancing or writing! These activities make you come alive, even if you “only” do them as favorite pastimes.

Engaging in a hobby is one of the most important success principles you can follow to move closer to your dreams.

When you try something creative for the first time or in a long while, you begin to see opportunities at work and in life that you were unaware of before. You also feel happier and more energized, according to a recent study from New Zealand[1].

Some of my most burned-out executive clients reinvigorated their careers by discovering a creative outlet that refueled them after the workday ended. Research at San Francisco State University shows that having a hobby lowers stress and helps you succeed at work[2].

Give yourself permission to try new things and revisit old passions you gave up long ago. Setting aside just one hour a week for personal exploration can significantly change your life and help you focus on goal setting.

2. Focus on Your Strengths

Did you know that you are more likely to succeed when you develop your natural strengths rather than work on your weaknesses? The problem is that you probably don’t know where your true talents lie.

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Once you understand what makes you tick, you can use these skills at work and your personal life to get more done in less time. If you boost your unique abilities through practice and study, you can accelerate your career and become a leader in a field that matters to you. It’s worth investing in yourself this way.

3. Jumping off a Cliff is NOT Required

Here’s the deal: most people are too afraid to change. When participants first come to my workshops, they tell me they have mouths to feed, bills to pay, and fear that if they follow their dreams, someone will get hurt.

The old saying “leap and the net shall appear” does not comfort them. Because they are hesitant to plunge into the unknown, they believe their only option is to stay put where they are in life. Can you relate?

You do not have to sacrifice the life you have now to start a new one. I was a psychology professor by day and singer by night for years before I transitioned into a full-time music career.

To use this principle for success, take a little time out each week to do what enlivens you through a hobby, volunteer work, etc. Get a feel for it. Is it what you really want? If it’s what you really want to be doing, increase the time you spend doing it and make the transition when the time feels right.

4. Give Your Inner Critic Some Love

The main culprit that keeps you from stepping outside your comfort zone and getting the life of your dreams is KCRP or K-CRAP, the radio station that plays 24/7 in your head. The moment you try to do something interesting with your life, it slaps you down with such chart-topping killer hooks as “Who do you think you are?” and “You’ll never be good enough!”.

Have you ever noticed that KCRP’s mean-spirited DJ sounds like your parents, teachers, bosses, and other authority figures who shut you down creatively? These folks don’t need to stifle you any longer (although they often still do) because your inner critic does it for them. That keeps you stuck in a rut[3].

Silencing your inner critic is one of the best principles for success.

    To break free, try thinking of this DJ as a gruff old grandfather who gives you crap to keep you safe. Remember, this grumpy grandpa is woefully out of touch with the times. Give him a pat on the back for his good intentions, and put your focus back on what makes you come alive.

    This is one of the principles for success that will give you the courage to venture into the unknown where you can dance to the beat of your own drummer.

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    5. Embrace Your Inner Self

    Many of us don’t go after our dreams because we’re afraid people will find out how odd or strange we are. However, our little eccentricities often turn out to be our greatest strengths.

    Odds are that you lost track of your true passions and talents before you were even old enough to know you were getting off-track. You became slowly “adulterated” by learning to:

    • Take on family roles that don’t match who you really are.
    • Spit back what teachers taught you in school rather than risk getting bad grades for being original.
    • Hide parts of yourself that don’t seem acceptable to certain social groups.

    The price for fitting in is that you may wind up leading a life that doesn’t fit you all that well. Your true calling becomes clear when you embrace what makes you different from others and allow yourself to stand out from the crowd, even if it feels awkward. Often, the very qualities you view as your flaws are your greatest gifts.

    Here’s How to Listen to Your Inner Voice for Greater Fulfillment.

    6. See the Bigger Picture to Find Your True Calling

    I cannot stress the importance of this success principle enough. Your true calling is right in front of you, but you may miss it because you’re looking for it in the wrong place.

    To “see” it clearly, try widening your point of view.

    Case in point: Maria felt she needed to retire early from being a police detective, so she could travel abroad. I encouraged Maria to think of ways that she could continue to serve as a law enforcer (a career she loved) and travel overseas at the same time.

    A few months later, Maria landed a job with the United Nations in Bosnia training the local police force to understand and embrace human rights procedures.

    Like Maria, you are an everyday rock star capable of accomplishing greater things than you can imagine. Is what you’re looking for right in front of you, too? Do you have an inkling of what it may be?

    Look beyond your day-to-day activities, your current job, and even the town you live in. View your life from an eagle’s perspective and be open to new possibilities.

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    7. Try a Little Wish-List Magic

    Pretend I’m your fairy godmother, and I give you permission right now to be your most magnificent self. What kind of life would be music to your ears? It doesn’t matter whether it seems unattainable or even downright crazy. Write it down on a wish list.

    What would you like your career, your relationships, your health, your finances, and your spiritual life to be like? Jot down enough details so that your wishes seem tangible to you. Then, look at this list every morning before you start your day and every night before you go to sleep.

    8. Take Breaks to Get Clues About Your Ideal Future

    Did you know that working straight through to a deadline leads to diminishing returns? Research shows that taking a break for 15 minutes every 75 to 90 minutes can help you recharge, refresh your focus, and get more done in less time[4].

    Furthermore, a Stanford study shows that walking increases your creative output by 60 percent. Doing repetitive activities such as walking, running, riding your bike, swimming, and sweeping allow solutions to problems to pop into your mind out of nowhere[5].

    What does this success principle have to do with creating your dream life?

    These mini-breaks allow you to get vital clues for what to do next to attain your ideal future. Plus, you won’t waste precious time and energy getting lost in other people’s agendas.

    9. Take Action on Your Inspired Ideas

    Once an inspired thought pops into your mind, take action.

    This is one of the most powerful principles for success for turning your dreams into reality; the sooner the better. Whatever it is—from calling an old friend to taking a new route home—be sure to do it!

    Pay attention to your oddball hunches. You need to go after what you want, not just dream about it. As comedian Jim Carrey warns,

    “You can’t just visualize and go eat a sandwich.”

    To learn more about how to get off autopilot and take specific actions towards your goals, check out this video:

    10. Count Your Rockstar Moments

    Still not sure you have what it takes to get your dream life? This final success principle is guaranteed to help.

    Make a list of everything you’ve ever accomplished. As you read back through it, put a star next to each item, and let it sink in.

    You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how good you’ll feel about yourself afterward. You’ll also see how effective you’ve been in the past at getting what you want. You’ve succeeded before, and you can succeed again.

    Final Thoughts

    Eleanor Roosevelt said,

    “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

    Following these principles for success will help you find the time and energy to achieve your goals and live with clear intention.

    Stand still, get quiet, and listen. Your life is constantly telling you what you need to do to realize your own rock star potential in life and business. It may be just a whisper now, but the more you pay attention to it, the louder it will get, and the easier it will be to follow.

    More About Success in Life

    Featured photo credit: Rahul Dey via unsplash.com

    Reference

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