Difficult conversations

Some conversations can be difficult whether they are with a parent, child, sibling, partner, friend or colleague. Sometimes you want to take time to talk but something prevents the conversation from happening. This can be distressing as you could ruminate for weeks, months, even years or always feel like there is an elephant in the room.

Some things that can block conversations include:

  • The person you want to have a conversation with is always busy or there are always other people around.
  • The subject feels too painful or difficult to talk about.
  • You feel as though you may get your words all mixed up or forget things and that you might not say what you mean - you will not get your message across.
  • The person you want to talk to can sometimes feel critical or dismissive so you avoid difficult conversations.
  • You would rather avoid conflict and fear this conversation would lead to conflict.
  • You worry about burdening the person if you talk about this subject.
  • You feel afraid that by talking it will feel more real.
  • You feel afraid of possible repercussions of the conversation.

Strategies that can be used to prepare for conversations.

1. Ask the person for time to be set aside when you can talk alone.

2. Think about what is blocking you and whether the blockage is realistic, e.g. worrying about talking to your partner about job security would be an unrealistic blockage if your partner would want to know and support you. Alternatively, if you wanted to talk to a friend about sharing the driving more equally but you have tried to have this conversation before and it always ends in an argument. This is an example of a realistic blockage.

3. Get your thoughts in order on paper, write down the things you want to say, how you want to say things and number the order you want to say them in.

4. Practise the conversation either in your head or out loud. You might want to practise the conversation in your therapy session.

5. One of the techniques you might use in therapy is the empty chair technique.

6. Consider the response you might want and consider saying it to the person in the conversation, for example;

You-  “Mum, I am not happy in my job so I have decided to give in my notice and retrain.”

Response - “And give up all that security and money, I brought you up with more sense than that.”

You - “When you say that I feel criticised. What I would really like you to say is that you are pleased I am going to be doing something that will make me happier and that you support me.”

7. Write a letter, you can decide later whether to send it or not.

8. You might choose to accept that this is a conversation you will never have for various reasons including bereavement or you have tried many times before to have this conversation without a positive outcome. Allow yourself to grieve the conversation you will never have. You can still write a letter, think of the response you would want, use the empty chair technique before you put the conversation away.

9. Be kind to yourself. You might not be able to have the conversation. You might not have the response you would like. Be your own gentle parent, good friend, positive inner voice. Alternatively the conversation might go really well, trust in your ability to express yourself.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Jacqueline Karaca M.Sc. Hons Counselling Psych; MBACP Reg.

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