Some conversations are inevitable and necessary, but also difficult and uncomfortable. We all will have this kind of conversation at some point. Whether it’s with a lover, a roommate, a close friend, or a parent–no one situation is any easier than the others.
These conversations usually need to happen because you are feeling upset or slighted, and those emotions are difficult to confront. It’s hard enough to understand why something is bothering you, but having to explain it to someone else is both challenging and taxing, particularly when the other party does not show understanding or a willingness to listen to your concerns.
I have had many of these conversations in my time. Some have gone well and ended with positive outcomes, others ended in what can only be described as disaster.
In hindsight, the situations with the positive outcomes have several key elements in common:
1. Establish respect.
The only way that a conversation like this will work is if you respect each other’s opinions and feelings. It may be impossible for you to understand that your roommate can’t sleep with the light on, but in order for you to come to a conclusion the accommodates and compromises for the two of you, you must respect the other’s needs.
If you cannot do this, you may as well extricate yourself from the situation entirely before you completely burn a bridge.
2. Don’t let it go on for too long before you address the problem.
The longer you let something go on that bothers you, the longer it will continue to be a problem before it becomes a habit for the other person.
You will only be bottling up your emotions which will lead to stress and upset, and will put strain on your relationship. Be upfront and be honest, but don’t try to dictate how the other person lives their life. If you can’t reach a compromise that you are both happy with and can live with, it is better to walk away from the situation.
3. Go into the conversation with an open mind, don’t raise your voice, and don’t blame.
Chances are, the other person isn’t aware that what is upsetting you is a problem. If their music is too loud, they may have thought you also liked it loud because you never said otherwise.
I have to choose to believe that people are not intentionally antagonistic. I do not want to live in a world or surround myself with people who go out of their way to upset me or make my life difficult.
That said, it is also not anyone else’s responsibility to make sure you are happy. It’s not anyone else’s fault that something they’ve done or said has upset you, but if the relationship is to be a healthy and continuous one, you will both be comfortable addressing the issue.
4. Keep an emphasis on the way their actions make you feel.
You cannot control someone else’s actions, but you also cannot control your feelings. You can, however, choose what you do with those feelings and your behaviors that are a result of those feelings.
5. After the matter is settled and you have come to a decision, don’t bring it up again – unless it remains to be a problem.
It is healthy to have a discussion and come to terms. Say you have been feeling that you are the only one who has been cleaning up your shared apartment. Your lover may have come to expect this from you, but you hadn’t set out to make this a habit. It’s upsetting you, but they don’t realize it because you haven’t asked them to pitch in or discuss who will complete what chores. It’s time to have a conversation.
However, if you have a conversation, but over the next few weeks nothing changes, you will need to bring it up again and readdress the situation. Something as simple as, “Hey, what happened to the chore schedule we discussed a few weeks ago?” will spark the necessary conversation.
6. Don’t set a precedent that you won’t live up to.
If you tell your roommates that you will be responsible for the vacuuming every Sunday, and don’t end up doing it, expect to be confronted. If you can’t keep a promise or a commitment, don’t make the promise. It’s as simple as that.
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7. Open the lines for future communication.
At the end of a tough conversation, you should end in a place where you both feel comfortable with what has been decided, you feel that your opinion has been respected, and your concerns have been addressed. At the same time, check in with each other every few weeks on what has been happening. Make sure you are both still comfortable and that your solution is working.
There are some things that we never really want to talk about but have to regardless. It’s not fair to you or your relationships for you to keep your feelings hidden, but there are simple ways to make your conversations effective, and without them being blown out of proportion.
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Have you ever had a tough conversation? What helped you come to a meaningful resolution?