This past week I found myself feeling the stress of a difficult conversation I had been avoiding. Sign after sign shining as a reminder of what I needed to face. I was looking over and over for ways to avoid it altogether. Yet the effects of avoidance were becoming more in focus with every moment. I lived between confidence that I needed to take action to fear of what the result would be.
What is it that makes it hard to speak the truth? Why do we find ourselves grappling over our needs and boundaries? And most importantly how do we get past this and get what needs to be done… done.
For me, the answer was found leaning into what I was feeling when I thought about the conversation. I had to listen to why it was hard.
The impact of avoidance
The weight of doing nothing was literally bearing down on me. My voice felt compressed, something like when you have a cold and are just tired of coughing. My neck and shoulders feeling as though they were carrying more than possible. Hip opener after hip opener it seemed there was too much to ever feel released again.
My mind was like a spiral, thoughts whirling around and around. The conversation rolling around and around. What would happen? Would it go okay? What was the best way to say all that needed to be said? My eyes felt tired as they fought for clarity. The more I tried to not think about it, the more I actually did. The thoughts like a magnet, something I couldn’t separate from.
Emotionally I was on the edge. Each moment feeling like a volcano ready to erupt. As the truth of this sunk in I knew I had to act. My inner voice was clear, nothing would change until I did.
Handling a difficult conversation requires skill and empathy, but ultimately, it requires the courage to go ahead and do it.
Tips for handling difficult conversations
I chose to be prepared! I practiced what there was to say with a friend. Allowing myself to hear feedback on the message I was sharing. I wanted to be sure my message was what I intended and that it held space for the other person to be with what was said.
Know what I wanted.
Once I knew what to say, I also had to know what I wanted the result to be. Was there one option, or multiple ways to solve the issue? This was a question I had to grapple with and know what was workable for me.
Managing my emotions.
My emotions were already ready to boil over, I had to give myself space to be calm. I took a walk and had some quiet time. I chose a peaceful place to be. Every decision made would give me space, to be ready. I picked a park for a walk, a mindful breath and got some fresh air. I sat up tall and dialed the phone.
Ask for permission.
Give the person an opportunity to look if now is the right time. Share the conversation is difficult, and you want to be sure now is the right time.
Be comfortable with silence.
There are moments in all conversations where a silence occurs. I let this space be a pause, allowing what is said to sink in. Instead of trying to fill them in, I used them as a way to calm. I focused on breathing.
When difficult things are said it is easy to back down, to soften your message. In preparing I knew my goal was fair, this allowed me to use a consistent approach. I trusted I had thought it through, and when the conversation shifted, I brought it back to what mattered.
Own only what is yours.
We react. Remember this when people say harsh things. Face the anger, blame, and all other responses with silence. Nothing said is true. Allow anything to be said without taking it in. Allowing others to face things in their own way without it being about me has been a gift for both of us. I allow myself to be true to my needs and boundaries. I allow others to be with their response and not make them wrong for having a reaction. In other words, be with what is said without attachment.
In the end, I can only be with my own actions and be at peace. No matter how it goes I need to let it go. For instance, I let go what I didn’t say and what I did. I let go what I didn’t do and what I did. Above all, the result is not important for me to be complete. Peace of mind is made by acknowledging anything that is left. To forgive what I or the other person did or didn’t do.