How to have difficult conversations

Advice on how to have those difficult conversations when you need to

Written by spunout


Sometimes we all have to have that difficult conversation – the one we’ve been dreading forever.  Whether it’s with a friend, a parent, a partner or a work colleague it can be tough to get through.

Regardless of what the topic of conversation is, it is how you frame having the conversation that is important. Try to choose a setting in which both you and the person you want to talk to will feel comfortable. This means avoiding speaking to the person in front of other people, such as in school, at work or at the dinner table. 

How to start a difficult conversation 

Agree to listen to one another 

The key to any successful conversation is the ability to be able to listen to one another. If you want to have a conversation with someone you know you easily can end up arguing with, try and start the conversation with some ground rules. Agree together that you will let each other speak without interrupting and really try to listen to what the other person is saying.   

Read our article on How to be a good listener.

Be honest about how you feel

Having a conversation with someone on a difficult topic takes a lot of bravery. If you brought a topic up with someone and they then become upset, it can be easy to back track on the original points you wanted to make. Try to stay calm in these situations and remember what points you wanted to make. Although they may be hard for someone to hear it is important that you can express yourself honestly in order to try and resolve the situation. 

Choose a time that is right for you 

There may be an important topic you want to speak to someone about but you feel you just aren’t ready to talk about it yet. Timing can be important when it comes to having difficult conversations and you should try to trust your instincts to know when you are ready. 

Accept your emotions

Getting emotional when you try to speak about something does not mean that you are not ready to discuss the topic. Be kind to yourself and if you become upset try and take a minute to catch your breath before continuing on in what you have to say. If someone becomes dismissive of what you are saying because you are crying or upset, it is not your fault. You cannot force someone to listen to you if they are not ready. 

Tips for handling tough conversations 

  • Organise the conversation when you feel comfortable to do so
  • Keep a positive attitude
  • Be honest and let the other person know that you want to talk
  • Pick a time where you can have a good conversation without being interrupted
  •  Make sure to maintain eye contact when talking 
  • Touch is also a good sense to use and connects you to one another
  • Try to reflect back what the other person is saying 

Other things to remember

Be prepared to wait. The person you want to speak to may not be able to have the talk when you bring it up. So you may need to set a time with the other person in advance.

Use ‘I’ statements rather than ‘you’. Saying “I need to be listened to better” will go down much better than “You never listen to me”, for example.

Come to a compromise. You may not get what you want exactly, but by the end of the discussion you should feel that both of you have gotten something from the discussion and have come to some type of agreement.

Get some outside help. If you can’t solve the issue, you may need a different perspective in the form of a counsellor, a friend or a work colleague. There is nothing wrong with needing professional help and it may be of great value to you.

Our work is supported by