Five Tips for Starting a Difficult Conversation with a Family Member
Most people try and avoid tough conversations, especially when it comes to having them with family members. It’s much easier to smooth things over and act like nothing happened than it is to ruffle feathers. Not only are tough conversations uncomfortable, they can also create rifts in the family, which many family members try hard to avoid.
Although you may feel like you’re doing the right thing in the moment, afterwards, you’re likely to feel rotten because you didn’t say how you really felt.
The truth is, you shouldn’t run away from family problems. You should face them head-on, and doing that is much easier when you follow the tips on this list.
Get Support Ahead of Time
Knowing you have to have a difficult conversation is scary. It’s not a good idea to go into it alone. Instead, you should look for support ahead of time.
For example, if you’re dealing with a family member who has a drinking problem, you should go to an Al-Anon meeting, even if going to your first meeting makes you nervous. You’ll feel much better going into the conversation knowing there are people who support you.
Getting support might mean working through your issues with a therapist ahead of time, and it can mean asking other family members to be present during the conversation. No matter what kind of support you get, you’ll be glad you did when you finally sit down to talk.
Write Down What You Want to Say
You may spend hours mentally preparing for a difficult conversation, but as soon as it starts, everything you wanted to say goes out the window. Instead of relying on your memory to work in a stressful situation, write down what you want to say ahead of time.
For example, writing out a list can help you because:
- You can organize what you want to say
- It’s quick to write and quick to read
- It gives you flexibility in the moment
Lists are great, but you also have the option of reading a letter if you think it will make you feel better when it’s time to have that conversation.
Know How You’re Going to Open the Conversation
Just because you know what you want to say doesn’t mean you know how you’re going to start saying it! The one thing you should have memorized is exactly how you are going to start the conversation. That’s because it’s often the most difficult part of the process.
When deciding what you want to say, plan to start the conversation with curiosity and openness. Using statements that focus on how you feel can be very helpful as well. The last thing you want to do is make your family member feel like they’re being attacked.
Using a question can be a great way to start the conversation too. Make an observation about a behavior you’ve noticed and ask them how they’re doing. They may just start the conversation for you.
Set the Stage
Where you have the conversation is just as important as how you’re going to start the conversation. You want to make sure you create a non-threatening, relaxing environment.
Avoid having the conversation in a public place. If the other person is used to coming to your home, look for ways to make it more relaxing when they come over.
If the conversation is particularly difficult, you may want to consider a neutral space. That way, neither party feels like they have an advantage.
Take the Role of a Journalist or a Researcher
It can be very difficult not to let your emotions get the best of you when you’re having a difficult conversation with a family member. It can be helpful to imagine yourself as a journalist or a researcher.
Journalists have many strengths, but one is being impartial. They ask questions and listen to the answers, without allowing their feelings to get in the way. Imagine yourself in this position and you will find it easier to remove yourself from the situation. In addition, if you’re able to be impartial throughout the conversation, the family member you’re speaking to will be more likely to ask you for your help.
Just because having a difficult conversation is hard doesn’t mean it isn’t worth having. Prepare ahead of time with the tips on this list. You’ll feel more comfortable before the conversation begins, and you can increase your chances of having a successful conversation.