What makes hard conversations so hard to have?

What stops us from having those hard conversations? What makes it even harder to have a hard conversation with someone we care about? How do we overcome our fear of things going wrong and move into something that will help make things right? 

The problem is we are managing a strong polarity. A polarity is two like powerful values at opposite ends of a rope. The tension we feel inside pulling us towards resolving the conflict is just as strong as the tension we feel pulling us toward staying safe and out of the conflict zone. 

For some reason, even though we know having a hard conversation can lead to closer relationships, we also know, from experience, that it doesn’t always end up that way. Having hard conversations involves risk and we can’t predict the outcome. 

Our strong commitment to maintaining harmony pulls us towards accommodating and maybe avoiding. Our strong commitment to addressing issues, achieving resolution and problem solving pulls us towards the conflict zone. So we end up generally choosing one or the other. The snappy comment or zinger of accusation is juxtaposed with the cramp in the pit of our stomach as we avoid addressing the issue because we are instead choosing to maintain harmony. Funny, we aren’t maintaining harmony in our bodies when we do this. We can feel it. And yet we chose to avoid that too.

Barry Johnson writes in his book, Polarity Management, about MANAGING the polarity. The polarity is there. Of course it is there. We can love and feel anger at the same time. And we can have hard conversations with success. First we need to own it. Own the polarity. Pay attention to your emotions and your body’s physical reaction to considering addressing the conflict.

Sometimes feeling angst is a sign of danger coming; like when you are hiking in the woods and you hear a wild animal. But when it comes to hard conversations, usually, feeling angst just means something is important to us. Own it, take a deep breath, and talk about it. Although I am no fan of the feedback sandwich, I do believe in owning the tension and stating the “AND”. Here are some examples.

  • Jon, I value our time together AND when you are late I feel like it’s not important to you.
  • Susan, I care about how you are feeling AND I need some quiet space to get my work done.
  • Evette, I am thankful you are on my team AND I don’t think the light fixture you picked is going to work in this space.

Here’s the formula: Use their name and show a genuine respectful posture. Turn your body towards the person, soften your facial expression, make eye contact and speak with a neutral tone. State what you value with an “I statement”, connect this to your polarity with the word AND. Own it! Once you open the door to the conversation with a statement like this, your hard conversation won’t be so hard to have. And that twist in your stomach will untwist as well!

Michelle Bostian, LCSW, ACC, BCC, CMP

Bostian Coaching and Consulting

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