How to Thrive in Difficult Conversations

July 22, 2016 • Rehack Team


Whether you’re sitting around the dinner table at a family reunion trying to carry on conversations with people you haven’t seen in decades or attempting to explain your pick for the next U.S. president while talking to someone who doesn’t share your viewpoint, life is full of tricky dialogue. Sometimes, the ability to stay cool and collected during these often-heated or nerve-wracking exchanges could help you impress important clients or even your in-laws, but at the very least it’ll show everyone you’re a communication pro.

Keep reading to get several actionable strategies to help you stay relaxed and on point when having difficult conversations and speaking to people who may not be as open to communicating as you are.

Prepare Yourself Before Getting Started

Although it’s not always possible, try to prepare yourself before launching into difficult conversations – such as those that happen between yourself and an upset relative. Determine several factors about your viewpoint and goals, such as:

  • What your purpose is for having the conversation
  • The things you already know about the issue
  • Whether there are any challenges you think might crop up

Knowing what you hope to accomplish with the conversation can help you stay on topic and avoid blaming the other person.

Give the Other Person a Chance to Talk

People usually aren’t very receptive when others try to start conversations with them and seem content to dominate the dialogue so much there’s no time for responses. Aim to pace yourself appropriately so the person who’s hearing your speech has enough time to listen to what you’re saying, then respond if necessary.

In addition to consciously giving the other individual time to express their opinion, use inviting body language to show you’re willing to allow that exchange of communications to occur and that you’re ready to listen.

Monitor Your Breathing

When you’re talking about something that makes you feel emotionally charged, it’s especially common to feel breathless and start to give the impression you no longer have complete control over what’s coming out of your mouth. Instead of allowing those effects to have adverse results, take a deep breath and exhale slowly. That should get you back on track by making you feel calmer. Afterwards, as the conversation progresses, continue to keep track of your breathing to ensure it’s slow and steady as you chat.

Don’t Skirt the Tough Aspects

There are many reasons why people may feel it’s best to avoid parts of the conversation that could make listeners feel offended or upset. For example, when telling someone you’ve just been diagnosed with a chronic illness, it might be especially hard to disclose how your life could change because of your sickness, the illnesses’ affect on your mental health or the expenses you might have to figure out how to cover if the suggested treatment is costlier than expected.

Although it may be easier to not discuss the things that are perceivably harder for other people to hear, it’s important to keep those kinds of conversations as honest as possible. When you actively decide it’s necessary to bring up meaningful but hard-to-hear topics, the listener will likely be grateful for your openness.

Back up Your Stance With Facts or First-Hand Experience

Usually, the first thing a listener wants to hear during the opening stages of a difficult conversation is why you feel a certain way. What’s caused you to reach a specific way of thinking, and would you be willing to change your mind if presented with facts that are in opposition to what you already know?

That’s why it’s crucial to use verifiable facts, first-hand experience or both when taking about why you believe the things you do. That kind of insight adds power to your arguments and may encourage people to be more receptive.

Realize You May Not Reach an Agreement

It’s important to have the proper perspective whenever talking about tricky topics. Regardless of if you’re communicating with a romantic partner or your grandma, the two of you may not be able to completely reach common ground during a discussion. Ideally, you’ll respect each other’s opinions, display a commitment to fairness and recognize the opposing views are potentially very strongly held and have been carefully thought out.

If you’re unable to reach an agreement during difficult conversations, remember that the outcome doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Instead it just indicates you have enough maturity to accept that the world is full of people who don’t share your views, and some may be standing mere feet from you.

Hopefully these tips will make you feel more confidently conversational even when the topic of discussion takes a turn that makes you initially uneasy. With practice, you can become much more equipped to speak with clarity, despite being under pressure.