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  • Writer's pictureTajda

A Simple Framework For Handling Difficult Conversations

Updated: Apr 16, 2023

Photo by Sanchali:

I'm sure we've all been in a situation where we felt hurt/annoyed/betrayed/upset by another person and had to have a conversation with them to communicate what we were feeling, how their actions affected us, and set some boundaries in the process.

This could be with our:

  • romantic partners (ex: they aren't showing up in the relationship the way we want them to: not keeping agreements / not taking responsibility for xzy ...)

  • friends (ex: they keep canceling/postponing get-togethers, not taking time for us, etc.)

  • parents (ex: they don't respect our boundaries, come over unannounced, do things for us when we explicitly said no...)

  • team members/coworkers (ex: they are doing less than what we agreed on / are showing up late / not hitting deadlines / we need to let them go ...)

Often we'd rather avoid or ignore these conversations, which is absolutely normal because most of us didn't really learn how to navigate them in a graceful and detached way, and they, therefore, feel nerve-wracking, scary, can cause a sleepless night or two and come with sweaty hands, tight throat, racing heart, insecurities, fears and let's be honest, we mostly just want to get it over with. 🙈 But there is another way.

Leaning into uncomfortable conversations

Difficult conversations are a great opportunity for our growth, to practice conscious communication & setting boundaries, and to build a real, genuine connection with the other person, whether that's at work or at home.

In order to do that we first need to understand triggers and the role they play in conscious communication.

A trigger is an emotional response to something in the outer world (words, actions, certain behavior...) and it's anything "that disturbs our peace" (Hulnick, p. ).

In the examples I listed above, the other person said/did something that triggered or emotionally upset us.

Now, other people constantly trigger us, which is completely normal, and when it comes to triggers we have two options:

  • we can blame others for how we feel and try to make THEM change (this is the hard + disempowering way because we're putting our power in other people's hands, "waiting" for them to change so we can feel better)

  • we can take personal responsibility for our triggers and see them for what they are: an opportunity to get free of a past pain that has been residing within us all this time and got triggered by different people, not just the person in question. If we got upset, that means there's something in us that needs attending to and when we slow it down and give it our attention, we get free, get back our power, and are finally on eye level with the person we're speaking to vs thinking they have power over us, understanding that they aren't doing anything to us.

How does this relate to handling difficult conversations?

If we go into a difficult conversation feeling emotionally upset/triggered (on top of being vulnerable, scared, uncertain...):

👉​ we won't be in our power and may feel that the other person has some kind of a hold on us

👉 the conversation will be tense and uncomfortable

👉 the conversation will be less productive and won't help us find a solution

👉​ the other person will sense that we're coming from a judgmental place and will be on guard, either defending themselves or counter-attacking.

I'm sure you can remember a few conversations like that. And usually, they don't end how we'd like them to: we leave them even more activated than before and we either don't find a solution or we find a solution that we don't like.

To avoid that, whenever possible, do your inner work first to clear the trigger and then have the conversation.

It doesn't matter whether you get triggered in a personal or professional setting or who triggered you: a trigger is a trigger and it needs to be looked at in order for it to be resolved and for you to not take it with you into the future.

​🧰​ Here are some tools for inner work you can use if you feel very emotionally upset (angry, frustrated, judgmental, annoyed, etc.):

Both of these will support you in clearing your own inner blocks, so that you can go into the conversation clear, non-judgmental, and see the other person as your equal.

1. Before the conversation: preparation

Here is my simple 3-stage framework to handle difficult conversations:

  1. Before the conversation: preparation

  2. During the conversation: connection

  3. After the conversation: experiment & uphold

Some of you may be like "Tajda, this seems like soooo much work just for one conversation, can't it just be more spontaneous?", to which I say "How has that been working out for you so far?"

If it's been working, that's great - keep on doing what you've been doing, but if not, this is an opportunity for you to learn a skill that can change your life.

Most of us weren't taught how to communicate with each other, let alone communicate consciously, so of course, this will feel uncomfortable and difficult at first. You're learning a completely new way of communicating, so be patient with yourself.

And you don't have to trust me - try it out for yourself. If you do, let every new conversation be a practice to master that skill. I can tell you from experience: once you start communicating this way, you'll never want to go back because it's more heart-centered, productive, it feels good, in integrity and it brings you and the other person closer together vs further apart.

📚​ Preparation

​1️⃣​ Do your own inner work around your triggers and clear your emotions (see above):

  • this will help you move the energy, let go of any judgments and resentment, you'll come back into your power, and see solutions that weren't available to you before

​2️⃣​ Think about and write down:

  • what is the intention of this conversation

  • what it is that you want to share so you are prepared

  • what's important to you

​3️⃣​ Go through and think about the agreements that were in place until now

  • every relationship has agreements, whether we're aware of them or not: see whether you're still on the same page or whether they need to be changed

  • we all have spoken or unspoken expectations: check whether you had any expectations that you didn't communicate with the other person

  • see whether the agreements were respected and if not, what are the boundaries and the consequences? Did you uphold the boundary? Did you apply a consequence? Do you need to set new boundaries, set new consequences?

⏱️​ When should you have the conversation?

These conversations shouldn't be rushed, so I want to give you full permission to take some time to work through your inner stuff, find more clarity, prepare and then have the conversation:

  1. Set a date and time so you can both come into the conversation prepared vs surprising the other person with "I need to talk to you right now/tomorrow"

  2. Set a clear positive intention on what the conversation is about so you both know: "The intention of this conversation is for us to find a way of doing housework in a way that works for us both"

2. During the conversation: build connection

If you did the preparation work, you will feel much more at ease and in your power when you enter the conversation.

One of the keys to conscious communication is to be fully present with the other person (no distractions, no phones, no TV, nothing else), to be on eye level with each other vs top-down/bottom-up (doing inner work really helps with this, especially if you're having a conversation in the workplace or if you tend to put your partner before you), and that you look for a joint solution for a particular situation. The intention should always be to connect and co-create, to be open to what the other person has to say, and not just come in with a predetermined solution.

Speak from "I" and take personal responsibility for your emotional upset: "I notice this is coming up for me..." / "I was triggered when you did that" / "I'm tired and I need support" / "When I heard you say that I felt small."

Personal responsibility doesn't mean complacency and it does mean that we're ok with what the other person did. On the contrary, it means that we take responsibility for our emotional upset and well-being (not outsourcing that onto their behavior), which helps us get our power back, and from there, we can still decide to let them go or experiment with new solutions.

🔖​ Here are some more powerful communication tips:

  1. Be genuine, vulnerable, and drop the defense: vulnerability is the doorway to genuine connection. When we are vulnerable that breaks down the walls between us and opens up real communication.

  2. Express what you want, not what you don't want: "This is what I'm desiring and this is the kind of relationship I want to have with you." Period. Speak from your heart and know that you don't have to justify anything.

  3. Don't assume you know how the other person feels/thinks or what they're going through. The truth is we don't know and that we constantly project our own stuff onto others and think that they think/feel/do how we would. If you have a sense that they're lying or giving you excuses, bring that up honestly and then ask yourself whether this is really a person you want to be connected with. If not, let them go and make space for someone who will show up the way you want them to.

  4. Every relationship is a co-creation: listen and be present! What are their ideas? What do they need? What do they want? How can you find a joint solution?

  5. If not discussed before, talk about your agreements and expectations. Unspoken expectations can cause a lot of misunderstandings and both of you want to be clear about what's expected in this relationship.

  6. Love can be fierce and love INCLUDES US. If your boundary was crossed, share that with the other person: give yourself full permission to honor your boundary & always apply the consequence when a boundary was crossed. If we don't do that, we teach people that that's ok to cross our boundaries.

  7. Discuss the next steps / the solution and give yourself a timeframe to experiment with it first.

3. After the conversation: experiment & uphold

Contrary to what we've been taught/modeled, our work doesn't stop after the conversation.

If it went smoothly, you found a common ground and have decided on the next steps, it's all about experimenting and seeing what works / what doesn't and optimizing it as you go.

Aside from that, there are a few things I invite you to do:

  • keep on doing your inner work: you will be triggered as you move through life (plan for it + expect it) -> if you don't do the work now, the energy is going to pile up and you can either deal with a small cut now or a big wound later

  • respect & uphold your boundaries: this is very important! If they get crossed, allow the other person to experience a consequence that both of you discussed before

  • stay in the dialogue and communicate with each other as you're moving forward and be there for each other. You're working with each other not against each other.

Let me know in the comments what are some of the difficult conversations that you're scared of / you find most challenging and what your main takeaway was from today's article. I'd love to hear from you! 👇​

With all my love & gratitude

Tajda 🌷

📚​ Resources:

  • Loyalty To Your Soul: The Heart of Spiritual Psychology, H. Ronald Hulnick and Mary R. Hulnick, 2011, Hay House


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