Ask people which sentences they least like to hear in conversation. You will probably find famous among the first ten examples, “We need to talk.” Whether you hear this sentence at home or in the office, it never fails to give you a knot in your stomach.
We don’t like that sentence because it shows that a problem needs our attention as soon as possible. We know we are going to have a difficult conversation. If you’ve heard this in the past, it’s likely that when you hear it now, you’re reminded of how that one line may have changed everything in your personal or professional life. So, hearing it now can instantly bring us back to that fear and anxiety we remember well.
We fear difficult conversations because they are uncomfortable and feelings easily get hurt. They may escalate into arguments. As a result, we can hope it will somehow disappear if we avoid the subject altogether.
But whether in personal life or business, these conversations are unavoidable.
Here are some reasons you should embrace (or at least be willing) to having difficult conversations:
The problem never goes away, no matter how long you ignore it. Suppose you decide to ignore an infected wound on your arm. You can cover it up with a huge band-aid or hide it under clothing. Will that make it go away? No, you will still have a giant wound on your arm. And, the longer you leave it, the worse it can get.
- Eventually, you know you need to deal with it. Having difficult conversations is similar. It makes you anxious and uncomfortable, the problem doesn’t go away when you ignore it. It goes away when you give it the attention it needs.
You get to understand the other person’s point of view. We believe that whatever side we are on in a disagreement is right. Willingness to have a challenging conversation shows that you can open your mind to a different viewpoint than you may be used to.
- You approach the conversation with more of a curious attitude and listen to and validate the person you talk to. You come out of the encounter knowing more than you did when you went in. It helps you expand your worldview or make necessary improvements.
You accept responsibility for your part in causing the problem. No problem is one-sided. When you are open to difficult conversations, you accept that you played a part in causing the issue. Just to be clear, when it comes to betrayal and shattered trust, it’s not quite that simple. If someone betrays you, it’s their decision and their choice that was made. Your role would be to see if there’s anything you see in yourself that you’d want to change such as: you need better boundaries in place, you need to realize that you are worthy or deserving, etc. Someone betraying you doesn’t mean you caused it, weren’t enough, less than, etc.
You get better at having those conversations. Difficult conversations are unavoidable. With practice, just like everything else, the more difficult conversations you have, the better you get at having them.
- Learn how to approach hard conversations. Your communication skills will improve. You’ll also be able to put yourself and the person you’re talking to at ease. While sometimes there’s a need to clarify something that was misinterpreted, other times something unspoken needs to be cleared. Sometimes it’s vitally important to make sure you’re heard and at times where you don’t feel it’s important enough, you may opt to go along with the saying; “Would you rather be right or would you rather be happy.”
It makes us have better relationships. No relationship is perfect all the time. The idea is to communicate clearly and respectfully. The good news is, as uncomfortable as it may be, it can often lead to greater intimacy as you dive into deeper levels of your relationship.
- This helps build stronger bonds. Even in complex and awkward situations, you learn more about yourself and others through these experiences.
Resentment festers when problems aren’t addressed. So talk things out. You have more of an opportunity to solve a problem when you understand it more clearly. Difficult conversations make that possible. If you’re hesitating to have a difficult conversation, consider the downside and possible regret of not being true to your feelings or saying what’s important to you. Deeper clarity and understanding may likely be on the other side of your discomfort so decide if avoidance…or making the time to have that talk is in your best interest.
Founder and CEO, The PBT (Post Betrayal Transformation) Institute