How to have difficult conversations and avoid arguments

I bet there are many things you’d like to say, but you just don’t know how.

You would like your husband to do more work around the house so you can have some more free time, but every time you’ve brought it up it turned into the Niagara Falls of shouting matches.

You don’t want to carpool with that annoying friend anymore. She’s just too much of a Negative Nancy. Even though your negative ramblings were fantastic when you started being friends, you’ve since grown to have a much more positive perspective, and would rather kick her negative boo-tay out of your passenger seat.

You want to finally get your parents to listen to you. Despite the fact that you’re a grown-up, they continue to tell you how to think, what to do, and how to do every step of it. To get away from feeling like you’re going to explode every time you talk to them, you’ve reduced contact a lot. But family relationships are important to you, and you just don’t know how to put it gently so that they get the message and don’t take offense with your assertiveness.

Let’s sit down for some coffee and chat about this. In the video, you’ll learn the basic techniques for handling difficult conversations without having them balloon into arguments. You’ll also get to meet my kitty Leto (who’s currently curled up my lap with his head resting on my arm as I type this). Like me, this video is slightly wise, slightly ridiculous and entertaining, and slightly awkward. You’re welcome.

Now, let’s apply these principles…

To approach the conversation with your husband, first, relax and center yourself. Connect with your inner wisdom and make sure that you really know what you want out of this. In this case, you just want more time for yourself. So sit down with your husband (at a time when you’re both calm and in a good mood). Here is a script that you can follow:

Sweetheart, you are really wonderful and I appreciate everything that you do for me. I’ve been feeling really tired and worn down recently. I realized that I tend to work too much and neglect the time I need for myself in order to function properly. I’d like to cut down on some of the housework that I do, but I feel that if I did that, the mess would just keep me from relaxing. I need your help so that I can take a few hours a week to take care of myself. Would you be willing to pick up x, y, and z chores around the house?

Letting go of friends that no longer support you in your growth and development is really tough, not to the least because of your guilt. In order to put it gently to your friend, start by just refusing to engage in negative conversations. Whenever your negative Nancy friend starts bitching about the last thing her husband or boss did, change the subject or say something positive about that person. Since she might start growing uncomfortable with this, next time she starts being negative it would be helpful to just be honest and tell her this:

My dear, I very much enjoy having your company in the car every morning. However, I am trying to change my life around and have set two goals for myself: that I will not gossip anymore, and that I will practice gratitude instead of dissatisfaction with all areas of my life. I would really appreciate your help in achieving these goals. Could we maybe talk about something positive instead of this?

Who knows – you might even make a positive impact on her life if she decides to join this challenge as well. Or, she might start making excuses for not carpooling with you in the future – in which case, well, you got what you wanted, right?

Being assertive with your parents can be very difficult. The reason why parent-child relationships are so hard to change is because the familiar communication and thought patterns you’ve been using since childhood or adolescence are just too well engrained. But, like all conversations, this one is also possible:

Mom and Dad, I love you and very much appreciate how much you are still by my side every step of the way. Right now I’m going through a time when I feel that I need to figure things out for myself. While I appreciate your intention to support me, whenever you try to guide me in any direction I start feeling insecure about my own ability to make decisions about my life. I would very much like to have a flourishing relationship with you guys, but I’m having a hard time being close to you right now. I believe that I would be much more open and close to you if I was able to feel more confident about my own ability to make decisions. I would find it much more helpful if you supported me by listening to me, instead of giving me advice. I do value your advice, and I will value it that much more when I ask for it.

As always, the key is to stay in touch with yourself, as well as with them. Even though in the video I say you should “stay in your own shoes” while you talk (as I’ve demonstrated in the scripts above, I not once accuse the other person of something, and only speak in terms of achieving my own goals and possibly a mutual goal like improving our relationship), it’s equally important to “step out of your shoes” when you prepare your conversation.

Your husband wants his own freedom, and to not feel like he’s doing everything wrong – so when he finally does start picking up the housework, don’t be one step behind him yammering about how he didn’t do it right.

Your friend wants someone to listen to her and understand her. If you want to preserve that relationship, make sure that you are still present and listen – maybe help her see the silver lining in the situation (in a discrete way… don’t get in her face about it!)

Your parents want to keep you close and to pass along their wisdom. By ensuring them that listening to you more and giving you less advice will lead to you being closer and more honest to them and asking for advice (and actually listening) when you need it, you’re keeping this conversation from blowing up.

As in any big change, expect some external and internal resistance. Your husband, friend, or parent might retaliate or get worse before they get better, and your gut might not feel so great after having that conversation (or while having it!). This is because any situation you’ve been in for a long time has somehow supported your status quo. You had some reason for keeping things the way they’ve been. This is also why it’s so crucial to know what you want and why you want it before you even start.

Phew, that was a lot! Hope these tips and scripts help you out. Now it’s your turn! How do you have difficult conversations and keep them from turning into arguments?

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  1. Some great lessons in there, thank you Laura! :)
    Wish some people would stay in their own shoes though!! :)

  2. Communication with right tone is key. It comes with age:)

  3. What a fabulous post about communication. I believe communication, true communication is the key to a healthy and fun relationship. I am sure many people will benefit from the lessons you have posted here.

  4. Such a cute video and great advice. I wish I could actually do this with my mum. Every time I try it comes out wrong despite following these tips. She just pushes my buttons. Maybe the shoe metaphor will work.

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