How to have a Hard Conversation with a Friend
Updated: Jul 31, 2021
You’re breaking into a sweat just thinking about it, and for a lot of us, it’s really anxiety-inducing. Who can blame us? No one ever equipped us for how to manage the situation:
Having a hard conversation with a friend.
What do you say? Where do you say it? What if she blows up and over-reacts?
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It’s enough to make us avoid the whole thing altogether. But if you’ve been around for a while, you know we believe that too many female friendships end prematurely simply because we’re avoiding difficult, but necessary, conversations.
Why are we reluctant to have hard conversations?
For many of us, we have our reasons, and we justify why we’re reluctant to have “the talk”. We tend to over-empathize as women saying, “Oh, I don’t want to make her uncomfortable, so I won’t bring it up.” We are scared to push back against the cultural norm that expects women to be “likeable”, and we see confrontation as a contradiction to that image. We don’t want to be seen as making a big deal. We’re “mellow” or “cool”, and we downplay things that bother us because we don’t want to change that characterization.
And for many of us, we just fear being abandoned by the women we love.
It’s ironic because you’d think we’d be very comfortable in our friendships and able to bring anything to the table. But for some of us, it’s because they’re our friends, that we don’t want to bring anything up.
Consequences From Avoiding Conversations With Friends
1) You’re going to find yourself becoming resentful because that dissatisfaction is going to manifest itself somehow. A lot of times that comes out as sarcasm, passive aggression, and glaring at her because we’re so mad.
2) We complain about the situation to everybody else in our lives because we can’t bring ourselves to say it to the woman who needs to hear it the most.
3) We ghost her because we don’t know the words or we’re too scared to go and search for them. We gradually distance ourselves until the friendship dissolves. But the reality is that platonic intimacy, closeness, and understanding is often on the other side of that difficult conversation.
Three Tips To Bring Up Hard Topics with Friends
1) Think about the main reason you are avoiding a conversation with a friend... and make that your first sentence.
You probably thought something like, “I don’t want her to go and tell her other friends” or “I don’t want her to distance herself from me or get mad.” Whatever that fear is should be your opening sentence.
When approaching your friend, you can say something like, “Hey, I’ve been avoiding this conversation with you because the last thing I want is for you to get upset and to pull away. But I think that after we talk about it, we'll be on the same page.”
The reason this approach is effective is because it immediately disarms the other person. Instead of coming at her in an accusatory way that has her on the defensive, you’re telling her that your main objective in having the conversation is to reconcile, to stay close, and to have fun. And if we position the conversation that way, then who doesn’t want to participate in it?
2) Prepare more questions than statements.
Too often we prepare our “points” with the goal to help her understand all the ways she’s “wrong”, offensive, or annoying - and nobody wants to sign up to hear that.
We should approach the conversation with an attitude of curiosity. View that conversation as an opportunity to understand where she’s coming from, so you can get more information and have clarity about the things she previously said.
Perhaps that looks like you saying, “So the other night you said something, and my first thought was to be offended, but then I thought maybe I took it the wrong way. So can you help me? What did you really mean when you said that?” That’s one way of coming to her as if you don’t “know everything” and are eager to understand where she’s coming from. It also gives her the benefit of the doubt; perhaps you’re misinterpreting the entire situation in the first place.
After you develop your questions, practice. Oftentimes we’re really clear on what we want to say, what we want to ask, and how this is going to go. But then our emotions tend to catch up with us, and we backtrack and apologize and do things that dilute our message like, “But I don’t know, I could be crazy” or “Maybe it’s in my head”, and it totally discredits the point that you brought to the table.
Sometimes it’s worth taking a couple minutes to practice what you want to say confidently and directly with compassion - but without getting caught up in emotions and forgetting your point or dismissing your feelings.
3) Try to find a collaborative solution.
We often have a script of exactly how we want a conversation to go and how we want it to end. But if you enter conversations with questions, so you can unpack what’s going on with your friend and see where she’s coming from, she’ll understand that you want to work together on finding a solution.
This gives you the opportunity to figure out what you will both do the next time that awkward situation comes up or the next time somebody says that weird thing. If you come up with a plan together, each person is more likely to buy in and participate for the long run.
Why You Should Have Tough Conversations with Friends
These kinds of talks can make us nervous and may feel risky - and for some friendships, they are. But if there’s even a slight chance that that conversation will actually bring you two closer together, then it’s worth having.
Want to see these tips in action? Watch our YouTube video (and subscribe!) below:
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