How to Have a
Difficult Conversation

Friends Having Difficult Conversation

Difficult conversations come about when we need to share unpleasant news, discuss a sensitive subject, or talk about an issue that has gone awry and needs to change. The anticipation of having this type of conversation creates unease, as our minds typically imagine or anticipate a worst possible outcome.

Etiquette creates ease within yourself and others.  Remembering this as you go into a difficult conversation will not only get you through it without total discomfort but can help establish a better outcome than the one you initially thought.

The Reality of Boundaries

To prepare for a discussion with someone, it may be helpful to recap realizations about boundaries.  After all, it is the boundaries that we set for ourselves that can get in the way of agreement or harmony with others.

  • Boundaries are personal and not universal
  • Others may not understand they have crossed your personal boundary.
  • Boundaries aren’t necessarily obvious, as you’ve learned when you realize yours or others' have been crossed.

Understanding that our boundaries can be as individual as we are can help you approach a difficult conversation with acceptance and empathy.  It may also help you express your view of the current circumstances or situation more clearly.

Friendly Body Language Guidelines

Anytime there is discomfort or disagreement between individuals, it stands to reason that venting helps release some of the tension created.  But this is something that should be done privately and before you enter a conversation with the offending party.

Once you’ve had your time to vent and put your thoughts in order, you can focus on your body language.  Easing tension will help put your physical body in a more relaxed state.  Now you can focus on your demeanor and how you represent yourself when speaking with someone.

  • Be on the same visual level, face to face.  Not above or below the other person.
  • Wear a pleasant expression, including on electronic one-to-one’s.
  • Maintain a calm voice, even if what you actually say doesn’t come out exactly as you would want it to.  
  • Give the other person room to hear and process, realizing that what you have to say may come as a surprise.
  • Depending on your news, you may read the other person as needing a break.  Offer to share your thoughts at a later time.  Time-outs are okay.  Set a time to renew the conversation.

Guidelines for Having a Difficult Conversation Politely

When it’s time for your conversation, remember these etiquette-ful guidelines. 

  • Imagine yourself in the other person’s position and you will employ empathy from the beginning.
  • Approach the conversation with openness and avoid accusatory words such as, “You never…” “You didn’t…” “You always…” or other complaints.  
  • Be specific.  Be clear.  What is the problem you are addressing for yourself?
  • Step aside from long-winded stories of your discovery of the problem you are addressing.
  • Be positive in solutions for future interactions. 

Now that you’ve taken responsibility for the situation you can relax, knowing that you’ve done what you can to clarify yourself and that you are looking forward to continuing in right (or good) relationship.  

Sometimes the most important conversations are the most difficult to engage in.  But using etiquette and empathy to help you through it will leave you with the satisfaction of knowing you did the right thing to the best of your ability.

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