No-one really likes difficult conversations.  But they are everywhere.  They can be at work, the dentists’ office (it cost how much?!), the hairdressers (uh, yes, it looks great!) and of course, at home. The conversations are all floating out there, always waiting for you to act. There are a variety of ways to handle them, the foremost of which is putting them off altogether.  But, if I have learned anything in my number of years on the planet (notice I’ve left that deliberately vague), it’s that procrastination doesn’t work. Instead, if I am going to take the bull by the horns and “have the talk”, here what the experts say might help: How to stay calm. Below are my five takeaway tips to stay calm during difficult conversations, especially during this holiday season!


  • The first is: PREPARE. The “official” advice here is tips like “write down how the other person might make you lose your cool”. I would say that in most situations, it is not going to be difficult to anticipate this. A difficult conversation by definition anticipates a negative reaction. The boss is going to say “no”, the dentist is going to tell you that their price is the standard rate (and it is) and your crazy Uncle really does love the wrong political party! My personal advice is just to play the conversation out in your head. You will generally have some idea of how the conversation will go and this will help with your reactions.


  • The second tip is ANTICIPATE the emotions you will feel and own them so that you are prepared. Apparently, even the best actor will not be able to hide their true reactions to a conversation, (some feelings are impossible to hide). So, your best bet is to own it and show any joy or disappointment etc. If you’ve prepared for the worst in your head, imagine the real joy you can display when it goes well! None of that “own it and show it” advice is really me, so I’m moving onto my next (and favourite) tip.


  • The third tip is IMAGINE someone in your life who would handle the conversation well and channel that person. In my opinion, this is a genius suggestion and actually works. I’ve done this.  Usually, I try to think of someone diplomatic and calm and then I’m not at all bothered by the crazy Uncle and his crackpot ideas.  There was no preparation needed for that particular conversation.  I just nodded and tried to understand that he was a crazy.  And wrong. That helped.


  • The fourth tip is set some GROUND RULES for the conversation, if this is appropriate. I’m not sure this applies in any family context but certainly it might in a professional one. I don’t think would I ever say something like “in the event this conversation does not go well, we may want to take a break”. If you are the kind of person that might do this, more power to you.


  • The fifth and final tip is the old standard, active LISTENING. I think this should be called really LISTENING. We all know that the idea of actually listening and reflecting back what the other person is saying is a good idea. It works in most situations. People like to know they are heard. Certainly not with the crazy Uncle but generally communication is smoother when people know they are listened to. And that you are making an attempt is made to understand their point of view.  Not the crazy Uncle though. He’s crazy.

By Jo O’Dea.


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