How to mentally prepare for a difficult conversation
It can be nerve-wracking: your heart beats faster, a lump forms in your throat, and your hands start to sweat. Difficult conversations – at work or in your private life – are an opportunity to speak your truth and set boundaries, but it isn’t easy!
And it’s especially difficult when you know that the person you need to talk to has a very different opinion or attitude on the issue at hand than you do. But that is exactly when it is most important to remain firm and stand up for yourself.
In this article, our goal is to support you as you prepare for difficult conversations and help you keep a clear head even when things get uncomfortable.
Postponing conflict is bad for your body and soul
Rest assured, you are not the only person who gets a lump in their throat when it’s time for a serious talk. Almost everyone in the world knows the feeling, and there are very few people who do not get stressed out at the thought of a potential disagreement. Some people prefer to just get it over with, while others practice avoidance or simply shut off their emotions. But the fact is that no matter how we handle it, almost everyone hates conflict.
And many of us hate it so much that we simply avoid dealing with it. We keep our mouths shut when our boss demands that we stay late at work yet again, when our partner interrupts us, or when our best friend uses us as their emotional dumping ground.
We decide it’s easier to keep it all inside instead of expressing our authentic thoughts and feelings. When we do that, we are failing to be true to ourselves in order to seem more likable to others. But this people pleasing strategy only works for so long: pretty soon, our body and soul have had enough, and we implode, which can have long term negative effects and lead to problems such as burnout.
At that point, there’s only one way out: be open and honest about our feelings by talking about them and beginning to set boundaries.
This is a process that can take some time, but it is absolutely worth doing and will help you understand your own values better.
Despite what you might fear, you will discover that standing up for yourself and setting boundaries will, over time, have a long-term positive effect on your relationships at work and in your private life, allowing them to be based on the only currency that is worth anything at all: the truth.
How to prepare for difficult discussions
Tip 1: Calm your nerves and take a moment for yourself
Most people are pretty anxious in the lead up to a difficult conversation – we worry about rejection, about not being seen or heard, about not being believed.
One simple tactic is to acknowledge and face your feelings: are you feeling helpless, stressed, concerned? It’s important to learn to sit with your feelings instead of distracting yourself with your phone, alcohol, or social activities.
Mindfulness exercises are worth their weight in gold; they connect you with your inner-self and allow you to really feel your emotions and your body in the moment.
Our Humanoo app has plenty of guided mindfulness meditations that will help you to better understand yourself. Bringing your feelings to the surface and acknowledging them will stop them from hitting you hard when you are in the middle of a difficult conversation with your boss, friend, or colleague.
Tip 2: Make notes in advance and plan the conversation
Difficult discussions are usually accompanied by strong emotions, so it helps to make notes in advance and plan the conversation.
Take a blank piece of paper and simply write down all your thoughts, emotions, and needs – as you think of them and without filtering anything.
Once you have done that, let them be for a few days. Then, use these notes to plan out the conversation, reword statements, or remove or add important points.
On the day, you can bring your notes with you and confidently explain that you have prepared for the conversation and don’t want to leave anything out. Being well prepared will also give the person you need to talk to a sense of security, so you can both feel good about engaging with one another.
Tip 3: Stay focused on yourself during the discussion and avoid emotional reactions
The secret to every authentic conversation is staying focused on yourself, instead of getting lost in accusations – your own or those made by your conversational partner. But how do you manage that?
One great strategy is using “I-statements” instead of “you-statements”. Some examples: “I have been feeling…”, “The way I see it…”, “Sometimes it’s difficult for me to…”. This gives the person you are talking to space to open up, to share with you, and to be honest without confronting them with accusations.
Of course, this also means practicing active listening and being open to what your conversational partner has to say. It’s all too easy for prejudices and condemnation to sneak their way into the discussion.
But if you really concentrate on active listening and make an effort to understand what the other person is saying, something magical will happen. It’s only when both people in a conversation feel seen and heard that there is room to find a solution that makes everyone happy.
Tip 4: Acknowledge your emotions and give them space
We know that all the advice in the world can’t suppress your emotions when you are really upset.
No matter how well prepared you are, a difficult discussion can give rise to anger, sadness, disappointment, and feelings of helplessness or incomprehension. And the person you are talking to might not be on their best behavior, throwing accusations at you that in turn stir up a variety of emotions. Remember, even our most uncomfortable feelings, like anger or defiance, require acknowledgment.
Which brings us to the final and most difficult step: accepting your emotions and communicating authentically. Let’s stick with anger for the moment. If you are feeling angry, try saying “I hear what you are saying but it’s making me very angry, and I need to take a break” or “What you just said made me mad, so it’s hard for me to stay objective right now.”
It can be really hard to stay authentic during a disagreement, and even harder to express your emotions, but with a bit of practice you can move through the discomfort and on to self-determination.
The more you practice, the easier it will be to stay true to yourself and avoid lashing out. The people you need to have difficult conversations with will value your honesty and respect you and your feelings. Knowing that you will speak to them clearly instead of just reacting also makes their lives easier, a fact they can’t help but appreciate.
And who knows, maybe you will inspire others to follow in your footsteps and be true to themselves.
The more you stay true to yourself, the easier difficult discussions will be
We hope that this article gave you the courage you need to trust yourself and stay authentic during difficult discussions.
You might instinctively think that authenticity will be seen as a weakness, but in truth it is the solid foundation that every genuine interpersonal relationship needs.
And we would be happy to help you discover a more authentic version of yourself with our mindfulness courses.
Your Humanoo Team