There are some conversations that everyone likes to have – talking about vacations, hobbies that interest them or sharing a happy or proud moment. Then there are the conversations that aren’t so fun. The reality is there are times in life when we may need to talk about difficult things. Hot topics may make us so uncomfortable that we avoid talking about them at all or wait until the very last minute to bring them up. One study showed that 66% of people feel stressed or anxious if they know they need to bring up hot topics, 57% reported they would do almost anything to avoid having to bring it up and 52% said they would rather deal with a negative situation than have a difficult conversation.
Recently, I met a couple who was struggling with communicating openly with one another. The husband was avoiding his concerns about their sex life. The wife made a financial mistake she felt embarrassed to bring up. When they were finally able to share these things with each other, they developed a deeper level of intimacy because they opened up and were rewarded by acceptance and understanding. Not every difficult or awkward conversation is going to end as smoothly as this couple’s did. However, there are a few things that you can do to help increase the chances of a successful conversation.
4 Tips to Help You Better Communicate about Hot Topics
You may feel anxious about the difficult topic you need to talk about. Preparing for the conversation in advance can help ease your anxiety. You can decide what you do and don’t want to talk about and try to come up with a solution to discuss at the end of the conversation. When making a plan, think about how you want to begin the conversation and your main points. You may even consider writing down a few talking points to help you stay focused.
Use “I” Statements.
It’s likely you may have heard about “I” statements before. This particular communication skill is extremely useful in any setting, especially in conversations that may become tense or difficult. An “I” statement is one in which you begin your statement with I, instead of you. You might say, “I feel really frustrated when I have to clean all of the dirty dishes that have been left in the sink” instead of “You always leave the kitchen a mess.” By using an I statement you are putting the situation in your perspective. Another example could be “I am worried about our financial situation and our credit card debt” instead of “You are spending way too much money on the credit card.” This creates an atmosphere of less defensiveness and less risk of the issue or conflict escalating to an argument.
Listen….and don’t interrupt.
It can be easy, when discussing a difficult topic, to stop listening and focus your thoughts on what you can say back to prove them wrong. Try to really focus on exactly what your partner is saying to you. Try to rephrase it back to them when they are done to make sure you really understand the points they are trying to get across. If it seems you don’t understand their perspective, ask questions. Be curious about their point of view until you at least understand where they are coming from. You don’t have to agree, just understand. If your partner feels they are understood they may be less likely to interrupt when it’s your turn to speak.
Do not walk away.
Some conversations may get really difficult and sound a lot more like an argument than a discussion. However, do not walk away and leave it unfinished. If things get too heated, take a “time-out.” A time-out should range anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours allowing each partner to cool down and attempt to consider the other person’s perspective. This time should not be used to gather more fuel to use against the other person. Instead, use the time to utilize some coping skills or self-soothing. If it gets really heated, it may be appropriate to have more than one “time-out.” If you do this, make sure you come back afterwards to work toward a solution – or at least an understanding between the two of you. Unresolved conflict will inevitably resurface.
A perfect conversation about a difficult topic is extremely rare. It can easily become heated or awkward, or even both. Using these four points will greatly increase your chances of having a conversation that is helpful rather than hurtful.
Do you find that you are still struggling with communicating about hot topics with your partner? Our therapists are trained in research based methods designed to help you improve communication and reduce conflict. They are ready to help you and your partner improve your communication today. If you are ready to schedule an appointment, read about our therapists or call us today and we can help you find the perfect fit.