How to have Difficult Conversations

“I so badly wanted to tell mom and dad about my relationship, but I couldn’t. They wanted me to focus on my MBBS. How could I explain to them that a relationship does not necessarily imply one is casual about their career?”

 – Arohi

How many of us have had to face the brunt of a difficult conversation? Haven’t we all been in a situation where we had to either discuss or address something that was rather uncomfortable? If yes, then you would be able to relate to Arohi’s story.

Each time we find ourselves in situations where we would have to initiate a difficult conversation, we have that inner voice within us remind us of how it won’t be easy to take it forward. A lot of us end up giving in to this very fear, and eventually delay our talks as much as we can, with some of us never having the conversation at all!

This is the story of Dr. Arohi, who is currently pursuing her MD. Here’s what she had to say:

“I was in a relationship with my senior back in my MBBS days. We were together for about 4 years before things between us ended. Well he had cheated, to be precise. It was a really bad phase for me, no doubt. The worst part? I could not even talk about it to my parents.”

While Arohi’s mother was relatively open to hearing her out when it came to the tough talks, her father on the other hand was not someone she could strike such conversations with.

She says, “I had personally told my mom about my him (her ex-boyfriend) because I was serious to the point of marriage with him. By the time I broke up with him after getting to know about the cheating, both my parents were aware about my relationship, and about what had happened.”

Surprisingly for Arohi, her parents were emotionally supportive of her during her post breakup period. They not only ensured she felt better by consciously expressing their care and love for her every single day, but even planned 2 holidays one after another!

Back then it did do the trick. Arohi bounced back to a healthy state of mind.

At present, Arohi is faced with the difficult task of telling her parents about her current relationship. Given their overall perspective regarding romance coupled with the failing of her past relationship, she finds herself to be in a mess, and is unable to give her relationship the desired direction.


It was only later that Arohi decided to meet with a Life Coach to understand how she could go about striking a conversation about her relationship with her parents, who were probably yet recuperating from the emotional damage they underwent while their daughter was depressed post her first breakup.


Set your objective

To begin with, it is most important for a person to identify their goal. What do they wish to accomplish through means of this conversation? What would achieving the desired outcome mean to them?

For Arohi, her Life Coach asked her to evaluate the significance of the outlooks of her parents, as well as the wish to talk about her relationship to them so that she could look at a life ahead with her partner with more clarity.

Be specific

The whole point of a difficult conversation is that it requires a person to move out of their comfort zone in order to initiate it. While things are mostly easier said than done, here the focus remains on one’s uneasiness while looking to say something.

It is thus always best to first create a blueprint of what you would like to express to the concerned persons in terms of content, approach, etc. No, you don’t necessarily have to prepare a speech of course!

Being clear about your why-what-how i.e., why do you wish to have a difficult conversation, what do you wish to convey through it, and how will you go about initiating/executing the conversation boosts one’s preparedness and enables them to be a person of their words.

Define your mindset

Yet another valuable aspect one must look into prior to engaging in difficult conversations is their mindset. Going by its definition, a mindset refers to an individual having a fixed mental attitude or disposition that predetermines their responses to, and interpretations of situations.

Arohi was asked about her standpoint as far as opening up about her relationship to her parents was concerned. She said:

“I do think it’s high time I told them. I know I’ve had a failed relationship and it has not even been complete 2 years to the breakup, but what I also know is that no two people are the same, so assuming that every relationship will fail if the first one failed is an unhealthy way of looking at things….”

“I am sure I want to have this conversation with them. My boyfriend and I are serious and wish to get married, and I would always be happiest if my parents were on board with my decision.”  — She further added.

Organise your emotions

A Professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, late Robert Plutchik had developed the concept of a ‘Wheel of Emotions’. According to Professor Plutchik, the wide variety of emotions carried and experienced by every individual has the tendency to follow a path.

For instance: What starts as an annoyance can move to anger, and in extreme cases, escalate to rage. So how can one avoid this? We can avoid this by being mindful of preserving the person’s dignity, treating them with respect even in the times when we may totally disagree with them.

Coming to Arohi in particular, she was quite clear about expressing her wish to her parents without having to compromise on the respect and love that she felt for them.

“It is important for them to know that I love them so much that having their support would mean the world to me. I would never want to cross them and do something. I am prepared for them to disagree with me on certain grounds, but yes, I will ensure I let them know how much they mean to me even as I am looking at a life with somebody.”  – Arohi

Be patient during those moments of silence

Sometimes, a part and parcel of a difficult conversation is the silence. For somebody who is looking to share their views over a topic that may require them to step out of their comfort zones, the same may be the case with the other parties involved in the talk as well.

It is just important to acknowledge the fact that there may be moments of silence during a difficult conversation, and that is alright. One need not always panic over it and try to rush over things by attempting to fill the gap with words.

If we go to perceive it in positive light, a pause can have a calming effect, and help the ones involved in a conversation connect better. That said, an added benefit of periodic silences, especially during difficult conversations is that it allows us to not just hear what was said, but also replay it in our minds in order to let the message sink in.

Acknowledge the value of your bond

The key here is to express your thoughts without erecting an irreparable wall between you and the person. This can be achieved through both verbal and non verbal acknowledgement of your relationship with the other person(s) involved in the conversation with you.

Discussions over sensitive topic, especially with one’s parents can feel quite scary. The anticipation regarding the outcomes of the talk, and whether the desired result would be achieved in the end can feel overwhelming.

“I will definitely try my best to highlight the importance of my relationship with my parents in front of them. They need to understand that the whole point of me seeking their support is because I love them dearly, and just how as kids they would have felt secure with their decisions when their parents were there to back them up, I would feel the exact same way about my situation and my life.” said Arohi.

Maintain consistency

Be consistent in what you say, as well as your conduct. Whether an individual is a person of their words or not goes a long way into reflecting upon their confidence levels as far as their intent is concerned.

Ensuring that the objective/goal of your conversation is fair is one way to sustain consistency during the same. Another way of boosting self-consistency is by means of initiating, as well as maintaining a consistent approach towards your situation.

Be careful with where you initiate the conversation

By where, I literally mean the location where you decide to initiate your talk with the concerned persons. Choose your place of conversation wisely. The overall environment one creates can impact the course of the conversation, which is crucial to its success.

Factors like the temperature and ambience of a place does tend to cast an impact upon a person (including the receiver). Choosing a neutral place with a calm, soothing aura would ensure external comfort of an individual.

As a result, a well thought out location can have a great contributing roleplay towards one maintaining their composure and being more open to a healthy conversation over an unhealthy one.

Figure your course of action if the conversation is not a success

Lastly, no matter what the situation may be, it is always better to be prepared for both success and failure. While on one hand, it is important for a person to maintain an optimistic outlook and focus upon ensuring a productive conversation; on the other hand, it is equally important to have a Plan B in mind.

What if the conversation does not go as planned? How would you want to conduct yourself in a situation where you are unable to achieve the desired outcome? Would you choose to stick to your objective despite a conflict of interest with the other persons involved in the conversation?

While not being able to accomplish a favorable conversation may feel quite disheartening, having clarity with regard to one’s approach towards their goal in such a scenario would provide them with a sense of direction, and help them move ahead over being stuck in one place.

Difficult conversations can trigger anxiousness within us, no doubt. Even then, we will never know whether it could have benefited us or not unless we don’t decide to have them. The key is to plan things out and keep the talk respectful while not making it appear like an ambush! 🙂


Know Your Counsellor

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