Here is the truth: I am not good at hard conversations. Before having one, I often give myself the same coaching advice I share with my teen and young adult clients.
A hard conversation includes: addressing a concern, admitting a mistake, asking for forgiveness, expressing a need, or sharing an honest feeling.
Many people are uncomfortable being vulnerable and shy away from hard conversations. Fear gets in the way. Naturally, we don’t want to hurt someone or put ourselves in a position where we might be judged or invalidated. Fear tells us it’s better to avoid the conversation, pretend everything is OK, and move on. But in reality, these conversations are some of the most important ones we can have. They build stronger relationships, enhance quality connections, and lead to more understanding and compassion. Moreover, when we lean into a hard conversation, we gain a sense of confidence, clarity, and strength.
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When coaching myself and others in overcoming fear in order to have a hard but meaningful conversation, I follow these steps. While they don’t remove the fear entirely, they do make it easier to feel prepared, focused, and calm.
1. Clear the mind. Get out a piece of paper and write out everything that is on your mind. Be raw and honest with your words. How do you really feel? What do you want to say to this person? What does he/she need to know? Write everything and anything that is on your mind and in your heart.
2. Organize your thoughts. Look at what you wrote and determine the most important points you need to share. Make a new list.
3. Take a deep breath and center yourself. Visualize a positive outcome. See yourself expressing yourself clearly, calmly, and with compassion. See the other person responding with an understanding and open mind.
4. Preface the conversation with an expression of how you feel. This not only lessens the intensity of your nerves but also prepares the other person to receive your message.
Try starting the hard conversation by saying, This isn’t easy for me, but I need to talk with you about something that’s been on my mind. Or I have had something on my mind for a long time now and although this is really uncomfortable, I need to share. I hope you will hear what I have with an open mind and open heart. Please know my intentions come from a loving place.
5. Express your most important things. Use your list if you need to. If you notice the nerves creeping in or your mind moving frantically, pause to take a deep breath and refocus.
6. Listen objectively to the other person’s response. Open your mind and heart in the same way you expected from him/her.
If you can’t see eye-to-eye, recognize the conversation as one that illuminates each of your points of view. Even if the outcome is not exactly what you expect, you will have a deeper understanding of how the other person thinks and feels and/or what they need.
If things get heated, know that it is OK to walk away and finish the conversation another time. You can say, I think we are both getting too emotional here and not expressing ourselves well. I am going to walk away to cool off and hope we can continue this conversation when we are both more level-headed and calm.
Remember, when you start a hard conversation, fear and anxiety are normal. Take a deep breath, prepare, and remind yourself that you can be both fearful and anxious, and clear and strong. You can do hard things.