How to Have a Hard Conversation
Learn how to talk about difficult topics with important people.
There are a few things that are always going to be difficult to talk about. Right now, a lot of them are in the news every night. Money and finances are issues a lot of people struggle to talk about, but no matter what the issue, there are ways to bring it up with those you need to talk with. Here are a few ways to make the conversation productive and a little less awkward.
Answer your own questions. There are a few questions you can ask yourself before you start the conversation. If you go in without knowing where you stand, at best it’s going to be an unproductive conversation, and worst case it turns into a fight. Ask yourself:
- What’s the point of the conversation, or what do you want to accomplish?
- What assumptions are you making?
- What specifically is bothering you, prompting you to have this conversation?
- Are you bringing any bias into the conversation?
- Who are you talking with?
- What are your concerns, fears, and needs?
- Have your actions made the situation worse?
They aren’t easy questions. Don’t rush through them.
There is a four-step process that can help build a productive conversation while still getting to the uncomfortable part and avoiding a chaotic argument.
Question. Start the conversation by asking questions; be curious. If you think you know something, pretend you don’t. Chances are you’ll find out you really don’t know where the other person was coming from.
Ask questions that probe how the other person is seeing things. Ask them if they could share some of their opinion and point of view. And here is why it works: people become attached to those who show an interest in them.
The goal is to get the other person to talk and let them talk. Once they have said their piece, you can move on to the next step.
Example: “Mom, Dad, I am looking to go out of state for college, what are your thoughts on that? And do you have any financial resources to help me with school?”
Acceptance. Show that you understand the other person’s point of view. Show you hear and accept their point of view. Repeat parts of their position back for clarification.
Also, show you accept your own bias. If something they said already changed your point of view before you share your side, let them know that. One of the easiest ways to get people onto your side is to show them that you agree with something they are saying.
Example: “You know, I appreciate what you’ve said, I have never thought of it that way, and I actually think you have a much clearer perspective than I do.”
Support. What was missed? Support your position not by attacking theirs, but by building on it, or countering. Reinforce that you see their opinion and validate it.
While doing that, state where you diverge from their opinion. You’ve hopefully given them plenty of time to state their opinions and point of view; they should afford you the same respect.
Example: “Mom, Dad, I understand you said you would only pay half of my car payment; however, because of the ACT this month, I missed more work than expected and I cannot meet my half. I understand your point that it is not your responsibility, but it would make more sense to help me out once than put me further into debt.”
Solutions. At this point, you should have some common ground. That is where you can build a solution. This also might be the longest part of the discussion. Find what you like about each other’s points and put the pieces together. Conflict breeds examination. So the more you examine your point and theirs, the more likely you are to come to a real solution.
Example: “I like your point that I did say I would pay for half the car and thank you for allowing me to work off this month’s payment by cooking dinner for the rest of the month.”
Talking about difficult subjects is never easy. Even with this kind of framework, it will be tough to do. But putting off a hard conversation is only going to add to the stress.
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