Navigating difficult conversations: Tips for keeping calm and communicating effectively

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Difficult conversations are a part of life.

As much as we can try, no one is free from having difficult conversations.

Maybe it means having an awkward conversation with a friend or colleague, or even ending a relationship with a partner.

Simply put, there are always going to be circumstances where it’s impossible to avoid having a difficult conversation. These conversations are actually a necessary part of life if we want to change our circumstances and grow as people.

So how can you keep calm and communicate effectively? Here are 7 top tips to keep in mind.

1) Plan but don’t write a script 

I recently had a situation where I had to have an incredibly awkward conversation with someone. 

I wanted to ask them what their issue was with me and what we can do to resolve the tension between us. I was aware it was going to make us both feel uncomfortable.

But I knew this conversation was necessary.

So what did I do?

I made a plan. 

Now, this plan wasn’t an entire script of everything I wanted to say. That’s not realistic!

For one, I didn’t know what this person’s responses were going to be like, which makes it impossible to plan a conversation out…

…Plus, I knew I needed to answer as authentically as possible at the moment.

A script wasn’t an option, but a rough plan was.

Simply put, before approaching the conversation I took out my notebook and made bullet points of all of the things I wanted to talk about and actions to take so the conversation felt balanced.

It looked a little like this:

  • Ask what about my behavior had upset her 
  • Explain my point of view without speaking from anger or frustration
  • Allow her to speak without interrupting
  • Ask her how she thinks we can move forward
  • Suggest how I think we can move forward

You see, it was a rough plan… There were no specifics about certain things I thought I needed to say. 

Instead, I had a few prompts about things I wanted to bring up and I had thought about how to structure the conversation. 

I thought about myself in the conversation and the other person.

Even though it didn’t necessarily go like this, it helped me to remember the aim of the conversation and it encouraged me to communicate effectively

2) Ground yourself 

You want to be grounded when it comes to difficult conversations.

Being grounded means being centered and present in the moment.

It means getting out of your head and being in your body, and feeling connected to the Earth. 

The Yoga Nomads explains:

“Grounding relates to how centered and balanced we feel as a person and in our life no matter what is happening around us. When we are grounded, we feel secure, stable, and settled.”

In other words, when we’re super grounded we’re able to operate from a much more calm place… 

It means we won’t be making comments that are inflammatory and provocative, yet instead we’ll be more considered when it comes to our turn to speak.

Think less irrational responses and more effective and constructive comments.

So now you know why it’s important to ground yourself, but how do you actually do it?  

You can work on grounding through different practices including:

  • Kick off your shoes and walk barefoot
  • Dance to your favorite songs
  • Practice yoga outside
  • Savor the taste of something delicious

All of these actions will help anchor you to the present moment, and connect you to your body.

They all involve really connecting to something in the present moment and enjoying yourself… 

…And this is exactly what you want to do before navigating a difficult conversation.

3) Be truthful 

If you want to navigate a difficult conversation successfully, you’re only going to be able to do this by being truthful. 

You see, lying is going to cause someone to get their back up.

In other words, it’s only going to make the situation worse! 

Being honest with yourself and others is the cornerstone to navigating difficult situations.

In my experience, I’ve found it helpful to write down the truth about a situation before approaching a conversation to see clearly. 

This allows me to see both sides as effectively as possible. 

For instance, I recently had an issue with my boyfriend who said I was being a hypocrite. 

Before approaching a difficult follow-up conversation, I sat with myself and thought through the things I had said to him and the ways in which I had acted.

I returned to my notebook and made a list of recent actions.

Now, I came to the conclusion that, yes, I would agree that some of my behavior was hypocritical. 

You see, I verbalized that I didn’t like the idea of him doing certain things then I would do those same things!

By sitting with myself and being totally honest, I got clarity on the situation…

…It meant that I was less defensive and more apologetic for how I had been in the past.

4) Have compassionate for the other person 

Compassion changes everything!

When we’re compassionate towards others, we embody a totally different energy.

Now, compassion is not feeling sorry for someone, but having a deep sense of care for another person and attempting to understand them as best as possible. 

In other words, having compassion means not having sympathy for another but empathy.

In my experience, it always pays to bring a lot of compassion into the equation with difficult conversations.

By this, I mean trying to understand the other person’s perspective, and to really listen and connect to what they’re saying…

…And not judging them in the process! 

Like anything in life, it’s a process to learn how to be compassionate and it takes a bit of effort to make it a habit.

Simply put, it means practicing this way of thinking time and time again.

When it comes to compassion, in practice it means trying to put yourself in someone else’s shoes even if you’ve not experienced their circumstances before.

Here’s the thing:

Our experiences shape our reactions to things, so if you can understand what someone has been through then it can help with understanding where they’re coming from!

Hands down, remembering this during your next difficult conversation will help you keep your calm…

…And the other person will value you for being compassionate. 

5) Remember to take a breath

This is a very simple yet powerful step for keeping calm…

When it comes to navigating difficult conversations, remember to breathe.

You see, our breath is one of the best tools we have to help us to not only navigate difficult conversations, but to navigate life!

Truth is, our breath is our best tool…

…And it’s free.

Supposedly, we breathe around 22,000 times a day but we’re often not connected to the power of our breath.

But here’s the thing: we can change how we respond to situations if we get intentional about our breathing.

Calmer.com explains: 

“Breathing exercises can reduce stress by increasing oxygen exchange, which reduces your blood pressure, slows the heart, and releases any tension held in the abdomen. These physical changes also benefit your mental state – concentrating on your breath can bring you into the present, in a state of mindfulness.”

With this in mind, use your free tool when it comes to trying to keep calm and communicate effectively. 

Take a deep breath in and breathe slowly out when you feel stress or anxiety building in your body.

In my experience, I am much more rational when I’m conscious about my breathing in difficult situations…

…In other words, I don’t make flippant comments that make the situation worse.

My breath allows me to respond from a place of love.

6) Listen to the other person 

A conversation is a two-way street.

It’s not just about speaking – but listening too.

It’s equally as important when it comes to navigating a difficult conversation and wanting to communicate effectively.

Now, even though you might have a lot to say on a particular issue and you might feel strongly about getting your point across, let the other person speak too.

You see, if you just bulldoze a conversation and talk endlessly, it’s going to infuriate the other person!

I’ve been that person who just keeps on talking and doesn’t let another get a word in edgeways, and I can tell you that it doesn’t end well. 

It actually makes the situation worse. 

Truth is, if you only talk then you’ll likely find the other person feels as though you’re not holding space for them and letting them get their point across…

… And it will make them want to disengage. 

Now, that’s not what you want from a difficult conversation. 

What’s more, it’s important that you don’t interrupt the other person when they’re speaking either. 

Trust me, if you truly listen to the other person then they’ll feel as though respecting what they’re saying, and this will lead to a much more positive outcome. 

7) Focus on finding a solution 

The point of having a difficult conversation is to find a solution. 

It’s important that you stay connected to this while navigating tricky territory, so you don’t spin out of control and end up focusing on who’s right or wrong.

In my experience, a solution is never in sight if you’re focused on proving that you’re right.

I’ve had enough experience in my romantic relationship to know that you can’t reach a solution if you’re fixated on proving how you’re not the person in the wrong.

I used to do this all the time and difficult conversations would drag on because we’re fighting about our positions.

Truth is, you have to move beyond trying to prove you’re right, and together focus on the outcome you want.

Being solution-oriented is something you need to have in mind before you approach the conversation. 

I suggest thinking carefully about the outcome you want before you approach difficult conversations and to state this to the other person.

For example:

  • I want us to be civil 
  • I would like us to be more respectful to one another 
  • I would like for us to agree to not talk about one another to others

Now, for example, the solution doesn’t have to be that you become best friends with someone you’re clashing with at work, but it can be that you at least agree to respect one another.

What’s more, shaking hands to solidify your agreement or hugging the other person is a great way to agree to move forward.

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Tina Fey

I'm Tina Fey, the founder of the blog Love Connection. I've extremely passionate about sharing relationship advice. I've studied psychology and have my Masters in marital, family, and relationship counseling. I hope with all my heart to help you improve your relationships, and I hope that even if one thing I write helps you, it means more to me than just about anything else in the world. Check out my blog Love Connection, and if you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter

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