Everyone dreads difficult conversations. However, science can offer us some good tactics for dealing with them and achieving a great outcome.

Sometimes we have to have challenging conversations we would rather not have. They may be with a colleague, lover, neighbor or child. Something needs to be expressed, but we fear the reaction. We’d rather just stick our heads in the sand and hope the issue goes away.

As a people pleaser, I have always found it excruciating to tell people things I thought they didn’t want to hear. I would avoid confrontation at all costs. However, I have learned that I wasn’t being fair to myself or others. I couldn’t get my needs met without having difficult conversations sometimes. In addition, I wasn’t giving others the information they needed to help, support and love me fully. This led to resentment and guilt rather than honest, open communication.

However, it is possible to have productive conversations in these circumstances. We can address issues without causing more drama than we need. We want to get to a solution that everyone is happy with, preferably without raised voices or hurt feelings.

So, next time you have a difficult conversation coming up, try these scientifically studied ways of approaching the problem.

1. Stay open-minded

Before you go into a difficult conversation, prepare by reminding yourself that there is never one absolute truth. Other people have different views, perspectives, experience, and information.

If you stay open-minded, you can find a compromise more easily than if you have set your heart on a certain outcome. This also prevents you from looking foolish if you start your conversation based on some information that is wrong or incomplete.

2. Set a positive intention

Think about what you would like from the conversation. You may have a clear idea of what is wrong and how it needs to be fixed. However, again it is better to remain as open-minded as you can.

Focus on what you can give and what you can learn rather than how you might force others to agree with you. If you can envision an outcome where everyone is happy and the situation is resolved it is more likely to be achieved.

3. Give more positive feedback

Research has shown that negative things stick in our mind more than positive ones. We may receive a wonderful appraisal at work, but that one negative comment is the only one we focus on.

The same at home. Our partner may praise us to the heavens, but if they make one small criticismit is all we can think about. For this reason, if you have negative feedback to give, make sure you also give plenty of positive comments. Aim for five positive phrases for every single negative one.

4. Find common ground

Before beginning a difficult conversation, it is good to focus on common ground. Discuss things that have gone well and shared interests and values. This will set a good atmosphere for more difficult aspects of the conversation. Once you have established the positive things about the relationship or situation, it is easier to move forward to what needs improvement.

5. Watch your body language

Research has proved that we say much more with our bodies than we realize. Our body language can give us away if we are not careful.

In difficult situations, it is helpful to keep a relaxed posture and avoid getting in the other person’s personal space as that can seem aggressive or threatening. Keep your tone of voice light and obviously, do not raise your voice or shout.

Try to maintain good eye contact when giving feedback. Also, avoid any patronizing behaviors such as eye rolling.

6. Listen

Often we are so intent on what we want to communicate that we forget to listen to the other person. This can mean we miss out on vital information. In addition, if the other person feels heard, he or she is more likely to take your thoughts and ideas on board rather than becoming defensive.

The other person deserves your full attention, so turn your phone to silent, put thoughts of other problems from your mind and focus on the person in front of you.

7. Be honest

In order to protect other people’s feelings, we sometimes try to circle the situation and give hints and allusions rather than coming straight out with what we need to say. While we should be tactful, we also need to be open and honest. Otherwise, we are likely to cause confusion and misunderstanding.

Closing thoughts

While no one wants to have difficult conversations, we need not be afraid of them. They are sometimes necessary and we usually feel better once everything is out in the open. This is much better than letting frustration fester.

When handled properly, difficult conversations are an opportunity for relationships to grow and develop. They allow for better communication and understanding. If you have a good conversation, you may well feel closer to the person than you did before.


  1. psychologytoday
  2. huffingtonpost

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