How to Talk About “The Hard Things”


In spite of all my training both personally and professionally, I still have moments when I struggle with how to talk about “the hard things”. We all have those moments where we are so emotionally involved in the situation, that we forget to step back and really look at if our approach is helpful. Here are four guidelines that can help us plan and prepare to talk about sensitive subjects and tricky topics in our relationships. I share them with you, recognizing that we can all benefit from remembering to attune to our loved ones when we are in need of talking about “the hard things”.


Timing is everything. Whether it be a child trying to ask permission to go to a friend’s house, or a parent requesting chores to be done. Choosing the right time to bring up an issue, concern, or request is paramount. Choose a time when people are well-rested, when there are no other distractions, and when there is actually enough time to open up a complicated or sensitive issue and work towards resolving it.


Tact is about the way you say things. Tact includes the volume of your voice, the pitch, whether you sound sweet or shrill, sincere or annoyed, gentle or aggressive. It also includes your word selection and the way in which you say those words. Are you being accountable and honest, kind and loving? Or are you shifting away from your responsibility by using tactics such as shaming, blaming, and name-calling?


The way the message is delivered is similar to tact, but slightly different. Think of how different materials are packaged differently when shipping them based on how large they are, how fragile they may be, and if the item is perishable. The same goes for the delivery of sensitive subjects. We must be aware of the way we are presenting the material to the other person. Are we being straightforward and clear about what our message is? Does your message make sense? Is it said in a way that is easy to understand and appropriate? Are we carefully navigating our partners emotional world as we engage in talking about difficult topics?


On the back of every medicine bottle is a label that states: “Use only as directed”. Unfortunately in our communication patterns, there are no such labels. We have to learn to dose out our communications on our own. However, there are some guidelines to help us. We meter our dosages in communication by making sure that we stick to one topic at a time. We can refrain from rehashing the same message over and over and instead keep our conversation simple and concise. We can also choose to be solution-focused rather than pointing fingers, placing blame, or fault-finding.

Next time you find yourself needing to address a difficult subject, remember to use these four guidelines to help you.


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