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  • Writer's pictureKimberly Bonds Grocher, LCSW, CPC

How to Have Difficult Conversations

I’m always amazed at how much we go through to avoid having a difficult conversation. We probably cause ourselves more stress, more anxiety and more frustration by NOT having the conversation than actually having it.

There are seven fundamentals that can help us have a difficult conversation whether it’s with a loved one, a colleague, a neighbor, etc. These are life skills that can help us have healthier relationships in every area of our life.

How to Have a Difficult Conversation: 1) Figure out the real issue you want to address.

Before you have the conversation, allow yourself some time to get clear on what the real concern is for you.. Sometimes what we think is the issue (“You never call me, I always have to call or text you first”) is actually a symptom of a larger issue (“I don’t feel like you care about our relationship as much as I do.”).

When we only talk about the symptoms, we can stay stuck at the surface level issue. This is usually when it becomes an argument that feels like “tit for tat”. So take some time to figure out what you REALLY want to address. 2) Figure out the outcome that you’d like to have as a result of having the conversation. And how you’re going to cope if that outcome doesn’t happen.

What do you want to get out of the conversation or tangible change would you like to see? Is there something specific that you need from the person or people you’re having this conversation with. Be clear with yourself and with them. You also need to be aware that you may not receive what you’re hoping for and if that’s the case, how will you feel? What can you do to cope with that?

Many times we go into difficult conversations unclear about what it is we actually want or expect and that lack of clarity finds its way into the conversation. It can create frustration, at a minimum, for everyone involved. We also become blindsided when we don’t receive what it is we’re expecting whether that’s something tangible or a certain feeling or emotion so it’s helpful to give this some consideration before even going into the conversation.

3) Put yourself in the other person’s shoes for a moment. Do they know there’s an issue? How might they see it?

I know this can be really hard sometimes, but take a deep breath, close your eyes and for a moment visualize yourself in their shoes, looking at the situation through their eyes. What do they see? Do they know there's an issue? What might be some of their concerns?

Developing empathy for the other person’s perspective can go a long way in a conversation. If the other party knows you’ve got their perspective in mind, it may help them feel heard and understood in the conversation. Please understand that conveying empathy, doesn’t negate or minimize your perspective or experience.

4) Schedule a time to have the conversation when you’re both able to be present and focused.

If at all possible, schedule a time to have this conversation. Try to make sure it’s at a time and in a space where you can each be mentally and emotionally present. It’s very hard to be involved in any conversation when you’re distracted by other people, phones, bells, whistles, etc.

5) Be clear about your concern and the outcome you’d like.

Remember the concern(s) you identified in #2? Clearly state this in the conversation. You may assume the other person knows what you mean, but often that’s not the case. Assumptions lead to miscommunication.

6) Give space and time for the other person to talk and show empathy when they do.

It’s easy to be so preoccupied with what we need to get out that we don’t leave room for the other party to share or respond, especially if their response isn’t steering the conversation in the direction we want it to go. Take a breath and let the other person share.

Show empathy for their perspective (remember, imagine yourself in their shoes) and remember, expressing empathy doesn’t mean they’re right and you're wrong or that your perspective is no longer relevant. When people feel heard and understood they are more likely to hear you and stay engaged in the conversation.

7) Determine whether or not your desired outcome is possible and what next steps might be.

Once you’ve stated your desired outcome and have decided whether or not it’s possible based on the conversation, it’s up to you to decide how you’d like to proceed moving forward. Sometimes our outcomes don’t align with the other person or people and that’s ok. In those situations, it’s important to reflect on what’s in our control (how we respond, what we decide is our next step) instead of focusing on what’s not in our control (another person’s decisions and reactions).

These tips can be helpful when it comes to having many difficult conversations; however, it’s also ok to discern when having a conversation is NOT the answer and may cause more harm. Reaching out to a trusted therapist can help you prepare to have difficult conversations and also help you determine those situations where it may not be the best option.

Counseling is a great resource if you want additional help with communication and/or conflict management in your relationships. Contact us today for your complimentary consultation at 954-

391-5305 to discuss how we can help.

Dr. Kim Grocher, LMFT is one of our therapists located at our Fort Lauderdale office and also provides virtual therapy via our secure online platform for those clients who reside in Florida, New York, New Jersey, and Maryland.

For more information about her approach, click here.


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