Making Amends: Tips for difficult conversations.
We’ve all been in this situation, needing to clear the air, talk about something painful, or take ownership of our past and have a difficult conversation. It’s something easier said than done, and yet, no matter what side of the conversation you’re on, it doesn’t get any easier to talk about with someone you care about.
Maybe you’re waiting for someone else to take the initiative to start the conversation, maybe you’re avoiding things by convincing yourself that problems will disappear if you leave it long enough, and maybe you’re telling yourself that you don’t want your relationship to change, so you’re suffering in silence. Sadly though, things won’t change on their own, and you need to own the conversation. Next time you need to take that step, try some of these tips to help start the ball rolling.
- Let the other person or people know you need to have a difficult conversation. Being caught off guard with a heavy topic can cause a reactionary, rather than rational, response. If setting a specific time and place is helpful, figure those details out together, details that you all agree on. “I have something that’s hard to say, and probably hard to hear.”
- Be honest and straightforward in your talk. This could be a phone call, a lunch or dinner date, a hike, or something else. For a lot of people, texting can lead to miscommunication; for others, it’s a more comfortable way to talk about the hard stuff. Make sure that all people involved agree on the best method to communicate.
- If you’re emotional, wait until your feelings have cooled down. Having hard conversations when you’re angry can lead to saying things you don’t mean. Take some alone time and be deliberate about calming down. Things will be much smoother if you’re emotionally stable.
- Take a deep breath after you hear something, and take another deep breath before you respond. Someone might share that you’ve hurt their feelings, and you may not have known. Even if you did come into the conversation calm and collected, hearing that could throw you off a bit. A deep breath can bring you back to balance. Another breath can help you quiet down enough to know how to respond.
- Use statements that begin with “I.” Instead of saying, “You never want to spend time with me,” say, “I feel hurt when you don’t reach out for a few days.” This keeps the focus on your feelings instead of the other’s faults, which can keep the conversation flowing healthily.
- Ask questions out of curiosity, not condemnation. This can be tough, especially when you’re full of emotions. However, when you ask genuine questions, you learn where another person is coming from, and you often discover a deeper issue. Two fantastic questions that work in all sorts of scenarios are, “Could you elaborate on that?” and, “What could I do better from now on?”
- Make a sincere amends. Amends and apologies are a critical part of difficult conversations. An apology is not saying, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” You must accept responsibility and be specific. A proper amends is recognizing and owning your part of the situation and making corrections so that you never hurt anyone else in the same way. You can’t and shouldn’t say that you are sorry if you don’t plan on making a change to your behavior.
Making an amends can be scary, and starting a difficult conversation can cause you some anxiety, but your relationship will improve by talking, you just have to beleive it, and give the other people time to sort through what you have to say. Taking the time to repair relationships can be worth it, both for them, and to clear away the wreckage of the past, but you should also be prepared to listen to what the other person has to say, and in some cases, it may take them time, days-weeks-months, to say what they need as well. You may not get an answer, but you’re clearing the way for healing and communication.