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How to Have Hard Conversations

Hard conversations are a fact of life, and as a society, we are increasingly more divided than ever. It may feel tempting to try to avoid having difficult conversations: confrontation is uncomfortable. But here’s the thing about being uncomfortable: that is where the growth happens! If you’re always comfortable, it means you aren’t pushing yourself. Think of discomfort like exercise: resistance helps build muscles. We’ve compiled a few tips to help you grow your skillset when it comes to having hard conversations:

1.)  Get curious. When speaking with someone you disagree with, staying open and curious are the top elements for having a productive conversation. Even if you don’t agree with the other person, practice moving into a curious mindset while listening to them. What makes this person believe the way that they do? What stories and experiences do you think might contribute to them having that opinion in the first place? Curiosity leads to empathy, and empathy builds bridges between opposing viewpoints, so that even if there isn’t a resolution, the conversation itself goes more smoothly.  Remember, it’s okay to disagree, you just need to get to the point to agree to disagree.

2.)  Expectations are the root of disappointment. Both you and the other person bring a unique perspective to the conversation, so imagine for a moment that talking to that person is like you’re visiting another country and exploring all the elements that make the culture of that country unique, rich, and fun to visit. In most cases, you wouldn’t visit Japan expecting to eat amazing Mexican food, would you? And if you did, it’s likely you might wind up feeling disappointed. The same holds true for expecting another person to respond and speak and think the same way that you do.

3.)  Practice being wrong. You can’t be right all the time. That is a fact. Being wrong doesn’t mean you’re less or stupid. As a matter of fact, recognizing that you are wrong is proof of intelligence! Entering a hard conversation with absolute certainty that you are 100% right is not going to lead to a desirable outcome. People who are certain that they’re always right aren’t particularly fun to be around anyway, right? Making sure that you cultivate and maintain a certain level of humility is not only an important part of being a good human being, it makes having difficult conversations easier because you’re open to the possibility of being wrong. This makes it easier for other people to talk to you. In order to be able to really listen to other peoples’ beliefs, you have to be more dedicated to the truth than your own opinion and beliefs. Also, when you’re not in a battle to prove that you’re “right,” that helps you stay open and curious about the other person’s point of view.

4.)  Acknowledge good points. Nothing makes a conversation difficult faster than when both parties start “keeping score.” If you notice that the dynamic of the discussion has shifted into that atmosphere, try scoring points for the other side. Saying things like, “You know, I never thought of it that way!” or “that’s a great point” will make them more likely to want to reciprocate, and will help diffuse the instinct to become competitive with each other. It also helps build upon that humility concept discussed in the previous tip.

5.)  Finally, be willing to hit the reset button. Sometimes things just get too heated or we become too triggered to have a productive conversation. In that case, it’s a good idea to shift the discussion. That can be as simple as changing your body language - are your arms crossed and are you shifted away from the other person? Try opening up or changing how you sit. If you aren’t in person, say you need to run an errand or grab a cup of coffee. If you find yourself getting too upset or argumentative, take a beat and see if you can come back to the conversation in a better frame of mind. Chances are that if you are upset, so is the other person, so being willing to take a quick break might come as a welcome relief to them too!

These tips are designed to create a little space around the stronger opinions and beliefs we might hold in order to have better communication with the people in our lives. Give them a try!