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4 Tips for Having Difficult Discussions

Updated: Sep 1, 2018

With everything that is being covered in the news and happening in our country lately, it is natural to feel discouraged and want to discuss these major issues with people; however, we all know that sometimes it can be hard to have these serious conversations. Topics such as mental health, suicide, racial relations, violence, or even politics, are difficult to talk about, but it is so important that we do.

Here are four helpful hints for having meaningful and important conversations around tough topics. With these tips, hopefully we can all engage in more of these crucial conversations and make them productive, respectful, and maybe even enjoyable.

1. Make Listening Your Goal

For all conversations, especially ones regarding what are often considered “difficult” topics, it is so important to listen. Though this may sound simple, do not underestimate how hard it is to actually be tuned into what another person is saying. It is easy to be planning what you are going to say or even thinking about what you are having for dinner while someone else is speaking. Entering into these discussions with an intent to simply listen will help make sure you are truly hearing what is being said, as well as foster a feeling of respect in the conversation.

Also, remember that you’re having a conversation, not a debate. The goal is not to win. Remember that you are talking with another person, not talking at them or even to them. Remembering this will make the conversation less likely to feel like a battle, and make it more enjoyable for everyone involved.

2. Suspend Judgement

It’s not uncommon to attach judgment to what someone is saying. While this is natural, it’s not exactly helpful, especially during difficult conversations. While you are likely not going to agree with everything the other person says, remember that what they are saying does not define them as a person. For the sake of having a productive conversation, work not to attach their opinions to their being, and not to judge them as a human for their opinions. Again, this is extremely difficult to do in practice, you might feel angry. Increasing your awareness of judgmental thoughts is a great place to start.

3. Screw the Stigma

A lot of these important topics come with a stigma attached, but often the stigma is outdated and unnecessary. Let’s use suicide as an example. People are often uncomfortable discussing suicide, because it brings up a lot of uncomfortable emotions. Making this topic “taboo” only discourages people from being open about it when they are struggling. This perpetuates the cycle.

Is talking about suicide is fun? No, but it’s also not inherently bad to talk about it either. By talking about it, even though it’s uncomfortable, we can break down the negative connotations associated with it. We also learn how to be open and vulnerable with people we love and trust. Leave these stigmas at the door when you enter into these conversations. It is essential to having an open and honest conversation that is meaningful for everyone involved.

4. Don’t Expect Resolution

Another critical thing to remember about these conversations is that they are not going to “solve” anything right away. This goes back to our point about not expecting to “win” the conversation.

The point of talking about uncomfortable topics is to share ideas and get the conversation going.

This then begs the question, “what will lead to resolution?”. Not all issues need or have a solution. Sometimes the solution is just talking about the different thoughts and ideas that we all have on a topic. Entering into discussions knowing there will not be a resolution takes some of the pressure off, and allows for a more free-flowing exchange of ideas.


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