Personally I don’t like having difficult conversations. In fact I can’t think of anyone I know who ‘likes’ having difficult conversations. But life is full of them and it’s up to you how you choose to deal with that.
I was talking to a friend recently who was complaining that for years, two family members who get invited to every single holiday or fun event my friend hosts, has never returned the favor. My friend and her husband obviously resented the ongoing slight, so I asked if they’d ever tried to talk to her family about it.
“Of course not”, she said. “I’ve hinted at it and given her a chance to invite us but it never happens.”
This is just one of many, many…MANY examples of when there’s an issue and it doesn’t get addressed, resentment builds and grows.
I understand where she’s coming from. We often hope that our loved ones (or friends or colleagues) just “know” what’s bothering us and that by extension, they should know to try to “fix it”. But sadly, humanity hasn’t evolved mind-reading capabilities quite yet, so maybe you shouldn’t rely on that long shot.
I’ve always preferred to talk everything out, usually as soon as possible and for as long as necessary. But over the years I’ve experienced a broader spectrum of solutions, including pausing the conversation to talk later, deciding together to stop repeating old arguments and sometimes just not talking about it at all.
Sometimes it is best to walk away. To leave it alone. If there’s been an argument, to give each other time to formulate thoughts and space to calm down. There can be multiple factors that go into whether it’s a good time to address something.
- Do you have the actual time to talk about it without being interrupted?
- Do you have privacy?
- Are you both able to handle the emotions you’re feeling & not lash out?
- Would some more space give you both time to process? Or time to simmer?
There can be consequences to never having closure. If you think that by avoiding a topic that you’re avoiding dealing with it, then see if you can catch a glimpse of the big fat elephant out of the corner of your eye the next time you’re together, or even just the next time you think about that person. It doesn’t go away, it just stands in the dark.
When an apology is due, delaying the conversation can be even worse.
Look, I get it, when we make mistakes it’s natural to feel embarrassed or ashamed and that can make it feel impossible to talk to the other person. But the whole time that you are avoiding apologizing, the other person is likely bubbling with any number of emotions from confusion to frustration to anger.
There are times when it’s not necessary to rehash a situation or share feelings about it without it becoming detrimental to the relationship. But those times are rare, so don’t take that route without considering:
- What’s the potential for making the situation more positive by talking about it?
- Would it be damaging to your interactions to leave it unaddressed?
- Will you feel unresolved about the issue in a negative way?
More often than not it’s healthier to address it, with a tone appropriate to the ‘severity’ of the incident. You’re better off considering what the other person considers the severity to be though. Humor can be helpful for breaking tension, but it can also increase tension if it doesn’t translate. If you try to joke about the issue before actually dealing with the issue, the other person might feel mocked and that tends not to go well.
Ways that you can get a tough conversation started:
- Do you have some time to talk?
- Can we talk about the argument/issue/elephant-in-the-room?
- I owe you an apology.
Not every conversation needs to happen in person, although obviously that does tend to come off as less, well, personal. But if you find yourself tongue-tied when dealing with even mild confrontation, a well considered email is still a better idea than just sticking your head in the sand.