I’m going to be the guinea pig here.
Deep down, I think I know why difficult conversations are so difficult.
It’s not about what needs to be said. I always know what needs to be said. I know when I need to stand up for myself or share a difficult truth. That’s not the hard part.
The hard part is the unknown–the variables I can’t control.
Tell someone you like them, and you have no idea if they’ll return the favor.
Tell your neighbor you don’t appreciate how they’re acting, and there is no guarantee they’ll hear you out.
Difficult conversations are difficult because we have no control over what happens next.
This is terrifying for a number of reasons.
If we have no control, then we have no idea what we might need to do to respond. The brain can only work through so many scenarios before the action of life takes place. It can’t predict everything. And so while the brain is an amazing asset when it comes to analyzing and preparing for what might come, it’s a full-body experience when you’re tethered to the present reality of a demanding and quite difficult conversation.
My father is the primary decision-maker for my grandmother at this point. He helps her make decisions with her money. He helps guide her treatment at an assisted-living facility. And he helps her make sense of world that has never seemed to go her way right from the beginning of when her story began.
Years ago, he hated it. He wished he didn’t have to deal with this sort of thing. It made him so angry.
But something changed over the last three to five years. And I’ll let you in on a little secret–it was not the nature of the conversations. They were as difficult as ever.
But the great secret and simple truth here is the relative nature of difficult conversations. What once seemed impossible can later become tolerable. And that’s how it’s become for my dad.
These days, he doesn’t get as angry when he recounts what my grandma said to him. He doesn’t fret about her illogical reasoning or her rude interactions with others. Because he’s learned something incredibly important.
The conversations were never difficult because of what my grandma said or did. The conversations were difficult because of what those words and actions drummed up within my dad–and all the other people who interacted with her.
My dad, over time, learned that he didn’t need to say or do the perfect thing to get through a difficult conversation. He got through it by getting through it.
Now, I get it. That sounds like a vague and ridiculous way to explain a very real problem for many people, the fact you and I have to navigate difficult conversations all of the time.
But think about it. If someone calls you a name, does it automatically ruin your day? Does it have to? Or do you have some degree of control in how you respond?
What Makes Difficult Conversations So Difficult
What once was a nightmare becomes a silly affair. Difficult conversations are typical not because of what happens to you, but because of what you think and feel related to what happens to you.
You can’t have a difficult conversation with yourself because you know the battle is one-sided–and so it’s no longer a battle. The battle has to have two people to exist. And the really surprising part is that you determine the nature of the battle.
Our minds create the storylines, and our hearts add fuel to the fire. If we didn’t have this ability, life would likely lose all meaning. It would be flashes of colors and lights and strange interactions with roaming creatures.
There’s something much more meaningful about this all.
Conversations are difficult because we care about one another.
If we didn’t, we wouldn’t have these conversations at all.