Painkillers are pretty awesome and handy, whoever created them deserves numerous awards. I don’t know anyone who’s never taken a painkiller before, because they’re just that essential. Sadly not all of them are easy to swallow. There’s a particularly nasty brand that starts to dissolve on your tongue, leaving a bitter taste the moment you wash it down with water. Sometimes it even makes you gag a little, but once you’ve taken it, it’s effective. Uncomfortable conversations are like that, unpleasant to have but essential.
It always puzzles me when I see conflict between people that could be dealt with and maybe resolved by an honest, direct conversation. But here’s where it gets tricky, most of us don’t have the courage to speak the truth into the light. It’s hard, it’s uncomfortable and frankly, avoiding it is just easier…but ineffective.
Listen, a lot of conflict between people happens because of assumptions, misunderstandings and dishonest interactions. We all do it sometimes, for different reasons, sometimes having the conversation doesn’t seem worth the potential landmines you’ll detonate. But here’s the catch, often it is worth it. In case for some reason you can’t think of situations where an uncomfortable conversation needed to happen, let me help you out:
1. When you wanted a raise, and knew you deserved it, but didn’t know how to ask your boss
2. When your parents asked you to do something you felt extremely conflicted about
3. When you realised you weren’t happy with your sex life (and maybe the relationship in general) yet your partner was completely oblivious
4. When you lent your parent money that you had important plans for and desperately need it back, yet you don’t know how to ask
5. When you hurt someone badly and needed to fess up and apologise
6. When your superior is constantly (unintentionally) out of line and inappropriate
7. When you spent money that wasn’t yours to spend (for what you may consider good reason, but still)
8. When you quit a job or dropped out of school and needed to let invested persons know
There are plenty of occasions I’m sure you can think of when you have the truth locked in your chest and you don’t know how to say it. The conversation would simply be too uncomfortable. But here’s the thing, there’s no real hope of resolving anything without addressing the issue at hand. It has to be faced head-on with unwavering determination. It’s not easy, but important things are hardly ever easy. This is not to say uncomfortable conversations will result in a happy and peaceful conflict resolution. No. Sometimes, if not carefully managed, the conversation can take a left turn and speed off the rails. In short, it can get nasty. But either way it does do one thing, it puts everyone’s truth in the open, an essential step to understanding each other.
How to have an uncomfortable conversation
That being said, you would know by this point that there’s an art to starting and managing an uncomfortable conversation. We often don’t dive in recklessly without prior preparation, no matter the type of personalities we have. To effectively hold an uncomfortable conversation and get what we want out of it (or anything really), we need to grip our emotions tightly and fiercely. We need to be prepared for that fear, that panic, the awkwardness, the discomfort and sometimes, the lack of co-operation.
We have to remember that the way we say things, the pitch of our voices, and the choice of our words are either helping our case or making things worse. It doesn’t really matter who we’re talking to, being respectful, and in most cases tactful, is paramount to our success. Scream, sneer or throw accusations and be guaranteed the train is going to go off the rails. We have to think about our words and their meaning and how the other person will perceive them before we move our lips. So here are a few pointers that can help:
- Plan and possibly rehearse what you’re going to say. This helps to eliminate chances you’ll say easily misunderstood words, or perhaps of saying what you don’t mean. It also helps to avoid freezing in the face of a particularly difficult question
- Keep the interaction respectful for everyone’s sake
- Have a neutral third party as the mediator. Someone whose opinion is respected by both parties. Preferably that person who always seems to know the right things to say to calm a situation down
- Be prepared to be painfully honest, even when you’d really rather avoid the truth
- Be ready for a second instalment because sometimes just one conversation isn’t enough. Sometimes one uncomfortable conversation will turn into many, but that’s okay because often the truth needs to be heard.
PS: No lasting, real relationship can truly thrive without them.
You can read more about how to improve your relationships with effective communication on verywellmind.com
Now we’ve mostly covered conversations to solve conflicts, or those essential to getting what we want. But there’s more, there are conversations about opinions. Why do these matter? We all know everyone is entitled to their own opinion, fair enough. However behaviour is often influenced by personal opinions and when people who have power in our lives have somewhat misinformed or closed opinions, then it affects us. It can become problematic.
For instance, it’s one thing to think that boys don’t belong in the kitchen, it’s a woman’s place. Or that no man should ever “degrade” themselves doing chores (yes, these are varied opinions I have heard). Now when you hold such an opinion do you then teach your son, brother, nephew (etc) to be self-sufficient? It seems like such a small inconsenquential thing when they are growing up and there’s a maid, or younger/older sister to do it, but what about when they’re older? What happens then? Worse more what about the person who will date him, only to discover he’s a complete slob who cannot put a decent meal together?
I took a small example, but there are a lot more seemingly small examples with far reaching consequences. When people with misonformed or narrowed opinions (those that do not consider a different perspective) get into positions of power, they determine policies, cultures and can ultimately affect the fate of others, from just five people, to millions.
It’s uncomfortable to discuss issues that people feel strongly about, or have ingrained biases towards, but often it’s worth it to fight. Alright, this post veered almost completely into the unintended. It became deep, almost macro, and I daresay, skimmed the edges of philosophical. Well, that’s how I write.
Bottom line? Uncomfortable conversations are an essential part of our lives; of taking control, solving problems, changing the way things are – they matter. We cannot shy away from them, we have to be brave, swallow that pill and tackle them head on. Oftentimes, it’s more than worth it. Let’s challenge ourselves to be brave and honest, to have uncomfortable conversations. Until next time.