relationship advice

How to Start a Difficult Conversation – Six suggestions

Start embracing and stop avoiding difficult conversations. The rewards are big.

Six suggestions to take the pressure off and get the result you want.


[These examples are time-tested, based on actual relationship scenarios.]

One. Start all of your talks with a few positive statements, either about the person or your relationship with him/her.

For instance:

    “I love the time we spend together. Having you in my life is important to me and I’d like to have a deeper connection with you. And, I would like to have a talk about us. This is somewhat nerve-wracking for me, so I hope you can chime in and help me along with it.”


    “I am glad to be spending time with you. I see you as someone who is important in my life. And, I see our connection as platonic rather than romantic. I would like to continue hanging out as friends, if you are comfortable with that.”

Two. Talk about how you feel. Use “I” statements rather than “you” statements. Otherwise, you can cause a defensive reaction because saying “you” makes assumptions that sound accusatory.

For instance: “I felt uncomfortable when we didn’t talk the other night and I would like to better understand why that happened.”
Versus: “You pissed me off when you ignored me the other night.”

Three. Start the important statement, the one that reveals your big idea, with “and” versus “but.” It softens what’s coming next.

The word “but” warns me that a contrary statement is coming, making me brace myself and feel defensive rather than staying relaxed and open to what I hear next. Also, it tempts the speaker to use abrupt, rather than kind, words after saying it.

For instance:

    “I like it when we go out with other couples and I wish you wouldn’t reveal so many personal things about our relationship in front of the group.


    “I always enjoy the time we spend together. I am happy we met and like having you in my life. And, because we’ve been silent on the subject, I am having a hard time seeing where our relationship is going. I am not hearing that you want to pursue a deeper relationship with me and so it would be great to know what you are thinking.”

Four. After you finish explaining your position, invite the other person into your conversation by asking “is there anything you would like to say about that?” Or, “what do you think about all of this?”

It shows that you value this person, and care about his or her feelings, which builds more respect and a deeper understanding between you two.

Five. Listen. Try hard not to interrupt. Good listeners are rewarded with respect and a talk that is easier to have.

A difficult conversation will trigger strong emotions. If you let the other person vent and have their say, sometimes that’s all it takes to keep the talk going smoothly. Frequent interruptions can spiral any conversation into a dark place. The person who is interrupted gets frustrated from not being able to fully express his or her opinions and feelings. You will get another chance to speak.

If your buttons were pushed by something you heard, fight the urge to get hot and bothered. Wait for a pause and ask if you can repeat back what you heard so it can be clarified. Usually, we hear it differently than it’s meant to be understood.

Six. Show your appreciation and put closure on the talk. Say something like “Thanks for listening to me. I’m really glad we were able to talk about this.” It rewards the person for letting you talk about a tough issue.

If everyone knows there is a way to get through difficult conversations unscathed, future conversations will seem less intimidating … so you might stop avoiding them and start embracing them.

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