Tough Talks with Loved Ones: An Effective Guide

Tough Talk with Loved Ones: An Effective Guide

There are many difficult conversations that people have to have over the course of their lives.

There are the conversations that can become arguments; having to talk to your children about their behavior or grades. Then there are the tough conversations that can decide your future direction in life; conversations with your spouse about where you might move to in future, or how you might organize your retirements. Then, perhaps the most challenging of all; the conversation you have to have with your parents regarding their care needs in later life.

Tough Talks

All of these conversations are emotionally wrought, which can make it incredibly difficult to discuss them in detail. No parent wants to have to scold their child, find they disagree with their spouse about future plans, or advise their parents of the potential issues they may experience in later life. These awkward conversations are never going to be enjoyable— but they can be manageable.

The next time you need to have a tough talk with someone you care about, the strategies below should help to make the discussion as painless as possible.

Find a dedicated amount of time

The last thing you want is for important conversations to be rushed, or to be taking place when there’s distractions in the background. Try and set aside a period of time when you can have a one-on-one conversation with the person you need to speak with; if necessary, book a date in your diary to ensure complete focus.

Where you ought to have the conversation is entirely up to you. Some people find that having big conversations in public helps to keep emotions under control; others prefer a private setting so no one feels as if they have to contain their true thoughts. Think about the character of the person you need to speak with and consider what they might prefer; the chances are that the more comfortable someone is in their environment, the more likely they are to engage.

Use “I feel” statements

You may have heard of this technique before; it’s a very popular way of diffusing the tension from difficult conversations. What’s more, it’s a technique that is popular because it works.

Throughout the conversation, phrase everything very personal to you and your opinions:

  • “I feel it would be best if we discuss potential care needs and your preferences.”
  • “I feel there are some changes that need to be made in your behavior.”
  • “I think it would be really useful if we could discuss the future together.”

This type of phrasing is personalized, which helps to ensure the person you’re talking with doesn’t feel as if they are under attack. Compare:

“Your behavior needs to change. It’s intolerable.”


“I feel your behavior needs to change, as I’m beginning to feel as if it’s intolerable.”

It’s a small shift, but a significant one, and ultimately it can help ensure a productive conversation.

Tough Talks with Loved Ones - Use Notes

Use notes to help guide your thoughts during the conversation

Sit down prior to the conversation itself and think about what you want to say. If you’re going to have to discuss poor behavior with your teen, you can talk about how it makes you feel and how concerned you are for their future. You can also focus on practical advice; if you’re going to be talking about care needs with your parents, having the details of facilities such as to hand can really help to keep the conversation focused on the matter at hand.

It’s best to keep your notes brief; more bullet points than complete sentences. You don’t need to read off the page, either; just keep the notes in your eyeline, so you can be sure to cover all the things you felt were particularly important to discuss.

Address the matter clearly and unemotionally

Even for highly emotional matters like caring for your parents in their later years, it’s important to try and be as practical as possible during the conversation itself. Focus on who, what, why, where, and how questions wherever possible.

If you’re having to discuss your child’s behavior or a similar topic with the potential for acrimony, then opt for a clean, simple tone. Keep anger to a minimum; there’s some great tips on achieving this on if you’re in need of them.

Ensure that you give the other person adequate time to respond

It’s very important that you don’t dominate the conversation. After you have made a point, sit back and let the other person speak. If they don’t speak immediately, give them a few seconds to see if they want to respond. A true conversation is as much about listening as it is about speaking, so you have to ensure that you do both throughout the talk.

Don’t force a conclusion from the first conversation

If you are discussing significant matters of importance, then there is no need for a conclusion to be reached the first time you discuss them. Sometimes, it’s better to step back, let the thoughts percolate, and then continue the conversation when you have both had the chance to process your ideas.

For matters where a quick resolution is needed, try to take a few breaks during the conversation— even if it’s just walking around your garden for a few minutes. When matters of importance are being discussed, both parties need time to decompress and just arrange their mind, so adequate breaks are more than justified.

Finish the conversation on a positive note

Even if the conversation has been difficult or unpleasant, try and end it with a smile. Tell the other person you love them, that you care about them, and that you only want what’s best for them. Even if they are not particularly receptive to your sentiments at that time, the fact that you said it is still worth something.

Final thoughts

The tough conversations in life are always going to be trying, but if you focus on the areas above, you have the best chance of managing them productively. Good luck.

2020 Kimberly Signature

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