Why is it so easy for us to put our feet in our mouths by saying things we shouldn’t, but so difficult to have important conversations? I’m sure you can relate to the feeling, contributing when you shouldn’t then remembering your mom saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say…” But sometimes, hard conversations are necessary and may not always be “nice”. I’m talking about conversations about delayed projects, job rejection, or even difficult personal conversations like discussing relationship issues, etc. No one is a natural when it comes to difficult conversations, so preparation is key:

  • Take a deep breath and a step back to gather your thoughts. You can almost always postpone a conversation when you know you need time, and you CAN ALWAYS take a deep breath before a tough conversation. If you have the time, make a list about what your priorities are for the discussion. You may realize it’s not worth your breath, or you may gain insight to help you communicate what’s going on.
  • Think it through. You don’t want to go in with a script, but you should have an idea about what you will say. Don’t let your emotions get the best of you. Be levelheaded and communicate in a way you will be best understood.
  • Consider your timing. You shouldn’t confront a coworker or friend (or even your worst enemy for that matter) when they’re clearly having a rough day. Difficult conversations are generally important conversations, so you’ll want to have their full attention. Be patient, and make sure you find an opportune time for everyone involved.
  • Be bold. Do not be rude. Even if you feel completely out of your element, you want to appear confident. Confident people don’t need to attack others—they don’t need to be defensive. Chances are the person you’re speaking to may get offended and frustrated as you speak. Don’t let that bother you, and don’t stoop to their level. Show your courage, not your ____.
  • Use “I” statements. The last thing you want is to look like you’re pointing fingers. Saying things like, “I feel like this creates problems,” or, “I don’t understand why…” sounds much better than, “You caused this problem,” or, “Your logic doesn’t make sense.” One of my personal favorites is, “I’m confused. Can you help me understand?” Make yourself the target so it doesn’t sting the person you’re speaking to.
  • Listen and ask questions. This is where the “not writing a script” part comes in. You can only control what you contribute to the conversation. No matter how much you think about it in advance, it’s not a conversation if the other person doesn’t contribute. That means you have to listen. Part of listening is asking questions. You may think you understand, but you can find deeper meaning by asking people to elaborate.
  • Be prepared to compromise. The hardest part to deal with. It probably won’t go exactly as you plan, and you may not get the outcome you desire. The truth is that we are pretty much all fighting losing battles, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight them. Instead of losing it when you don’t get your way, know going into it that you may not… Such knowledge may change your game plan.

Sometimes conversations can be scary. Instead of overthinking about how tough it’s going to be, take action. The more practice you have with difficult conversations, the easier they will become.