5 Tips to Make Tough Conversations EasierNone By Rachel Wells
According to a recent poll, the top reason for conflict and eventual divorce in marriage is communication -- or the lack of it. But marriage isn’t the only place poor communication can negatively impact our lives. Other relationships like the ones you have with your friends, family, colleagues/supervisors, and healthcare providers rely on strong communication. Knowing how to communicate when things are going well and poorly will help decrease stress and increase confidence. We spoke with two experts—Amie R. Newins, Ph.D. an Assistant Professor in Psychology at UCF, and Paula Durlofsky, Ph.D., a Pennsylvania- based clinical psychologist—on how to handle difficult conversations in different areas of life.
Before jumping into a potentially difficult conversation, Dr. Newins suggests performing a mental walk through. “If you are sharing information likely to be upsetting to your partner (e.g., admitting to a mistake), try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes before having the conversation. Know what an acceptable level of emotional reaction will look like, and prepare yourself for that. Be prepared to offer solutions while being open to incorporating your partner’s feedback into a solution. Finally, if necessary based on your history with your partner, have a plan in place in advance for what you will do if emotions (yours or your partner’s) become too high.”
In confronting challenges within a friendship, Dr. Newins recommends practicing empathy by taking a walk in their shoes. “If you are asking a friend to change their behavior (e.g., because they have hurt your feelings), think about how you would want your friend to talk to you if the roles were reversed. Offer alternative things your friend could do instead (e.g., if a friend said something that hurt your feelings, what could they have said instead?)” By offering your friend alternate suggestions, you’re showing that you’re committed to finding a solution together.
“If you are sharing sensitive information with your family, think about what you are hoping to get out of the conversation,” says Dr. Newins. Whether you’re sharing information about a mental health problem or asking for support after a recent medical diagnosis, consider what you want and need from your family. Whatever that is—verbal support, help with groceries, check-in coffee dates—be prepared to ask for it. “If there is information you won’t be ready to share, plan a response to offer if those questions arise,” adds Dr. Newins. Proactive thinking will help address any unexpected hurdles.
In a professional setting, Dr. Durlofsky recommends a straightforward approach. She says the less emotional and the more factual you can be, the better the opportunity for implementing clear-cut solutions. Emotions can get in the way of what you’re trying to achieve. Speak slowly, stay calm, and let your discussion points guide the conversation. “Be specific and give examples about what it is you want to discuss with a co-worker or your supervisor,” she says.
“Being able to talk openly with your medical provider is key to cultivating a working alliance with your healthcare professional,” says Dr. Durlofsky. “Doctor’s appointments can be anxiety provoking. Bring a prepared list of questions or concerns to your visit. Preparing in advance for your doctor’s visit helps with making sure all your questions are answered.” In the heat of the moment, questions you may have had clear in your mind can slip away. She adds, “Don’t ever feel afraid or intimidated to ask questions. No question is ever ”silly” or insignificant when it comes to your healthcare.” You should fully understand your health, treatment options and procedures.
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