How to have a Hard Conversation

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Hard conversations are exactly that – hard. I don’t know anybody who likes initiating or being invited to one…but sometimes they are necessary. If you haven’t had to have a hard conversation than it might be time to question if you’re really in authentic relationships where deep care and concern are a part of the bond. (By the way, if you’re a parent, hard conversations are in the job description.)

I didn’t always have hard conversations, what I used to have were more like reactions, or even eruptions, especially in my role as a mom, and early in my role as a wife. But those kinds of responses didn’t get me anywhere. Well, actually they did…they got me pushed away, I got walls put up in front of me, and I lost my ability to speak into or influence the situation because no one was really listening.

Below are a few things I have learned about having hard conversations ~

1) Don’t react.
A few years ago while away at college my daughter called and began the conversation with this “I have to tell you something and don’t freak out.” So I took a deep breath, sat down and listened. (A practiced response from this mom!) I’ve learned that saying something along the lines of “I need to think about that, process that, or pray about that” are all phrases that allow me to say something in the moment without reacting.

2) Take time to process.
Simply taking a day to think, feel, and think some more about the situation helps.

3) Write down your thoughts.
As I process a situation, I write down my thoughts in a simple bullet type format. This seems to allow some of the deeper thoughts to come forward as some of the more obvious ones move from my head to the paper.

4) Give it a day…or two…or three.
Ever had a conversation reaction right in the moment and then came back a few minutes later and said, “Oh yeah, and one more thing…”? And then came back even the next day and said something along the lines of “Also, I forgot to mention this…..”  I have. It’s not very gratifying to get it ALL off your chest when the other person is rolling their eyes! Taking a day, or two, or even three grants me time to gather ALL my thoughts, write them down and get some order to the strong emotions that occasionally make rational thoughts, words and tones disappear.

5) Pray.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts and my ways are not your ways. Isaiah 55:8
Taking time to pray helps to bring clarity to the heart, or root, of the situation. This helps me drop the spotlight on just the one situation and illuminate the bigger picture. It also gives time for God to reveal what fears I might be experiencing that are displaying themselves in emotions. It allows the Holy Spirit time to show me something I might be missing, reveal truth and grant me grace

6) Bring your thoughts on paper when it’s time to have the hard conversation.
The first time I did this was many years ago on day three of an argument with my husband. I had sought counsel on day two from a wise, more experienced friend and she helped me understand my part in the problem. Though I wasn’t looking to understand how I was contributing to the problem, she cared enough to have a hard conversation with me. She explained the areas in which I was wrong and that I needed to apologize. (WHAT??!!) I prayed about it that afternoon and that evening I approached my husband, unfortunately I blew it. Scattered thoughts and still strong emotions got the best of me (or the worst of me!) and I began arguing with him again (go back and see point 4).

I called my friend again the next day, but this time I wrote down what she said. I prayed about it again and when I approached Kevin once more, I had my points written down and in my hand. The list of what to cover kept my thoughts together, my words focused and my emotions contained. It felt a little awkward to have a script for the conversation with my husband, but in the end there were no raised voices and that argument finally came to a close.

I do this all the time now. When I have a hard conversation, I’m always working from a list, either in my head or in my hand. When it’s with one of my kids, I remind them that when they see I have the paper it shouldn’t scare them, it should comfort them – they know I have thought about this conversation and that I won’t go on, and on, and on, or come back to them over and over adding one more thing. When it’s over, it’s over.

I still don’t like hard conversations, although I’m better at them and more confident now when I enter them. And although I’m not a fan of being on the receiving end of one of these conversations (my still heart races with my natural feeling of defensiveness), here’s the truth ~ I’ve learned much and grown the most when someone cared enough about me to have a hard conversation.

Trustworthy are the bruises of a friend; excessive are the kisses of an enemy.
Proverbs 27:6

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