• Dr. Vin

Making Tough Conversations Easy: Cutting Edge Communication Tools



I was getting my hair cut this week, when my hairdresser said she was exhausted due to staying up late at nights, listening to a friend on the phone who is going through a relationship breakup. She talks to her every night from 10pm-1:30am.

She has love and compassion for her friend, feeling bad for her pain. On the other hand, these long, late night talks are putting a strain on her family, making it harder to enjoy her work day and taking a toll on her body from sleep deprivation.

She asked me how to handle the situation. Another psychologist, getting her hair done in the chair next to mine, got involved and even came up with the title of this blog post, “Making Tough Conversations Easy”.

Before giving advice on how to say things well, let’s review one point on personality. People who tend to be more passive, can be very kind, placing others needs before their own. This makes them feel more anxious when they stand up for themselves, for fear of hurting the other’s feelings or making the other person angry. (To look at challenges for passive and aggressive types see my blog post, “Egg-cellent Restaurant Etiquette, Tips on Avoiding Communication Scrambles”).

Step # 1:

As you consider engaging in a tough conversation, notice your level of stress, whether fear or anger. Place your stress on a scale from 1 (low stress) to 5 (high).

Step #2:

Locate the area in your body where you feel stress or tension. Close your eyes, focus on those spots and slowly breathe in and out. Keep breathing and look for a good thought that helps empower your resolve to have this talk. Some examples are: “this talk is worth doing, I have faith it will go well." Or, “ I am stressed and this talk will make me feel better.” Or, “ I can do this and the situation will improve, once I have this talk”. Exhale slowly with a sense of expelling the nervous tension. Repeat a few times. Then measure your stress level. Although you may not be relaxed, see if your stress went down a point or two. If so, the talk will be easier for you.

Step # 3:

Take some notes for yourself on what to say. Always start with what is going on (facts, observations), then your feelings, then what you want or need. Pick a method (for “tough” conversations, I recommend in person or by phone rather than email or text). Use “I” statements to help avoid labeling the other person, or interpreting their behavior.

Here is what my hairdresser came up with:

1. I know we have been talking each night from 10 to 1:30 in the morning for the past 2 weeks.

2. I care about you and feel bad about what you are going through. After staying up that late, it is hard to get up in the mornings and go to work. I am really tired and dragging myself through the day.

3. I want to support you but since I have to work in the mornings, I need to set these limits: We can talk 2 times a week, not every night and we can talk for 15 minutes each time. I want to hear how you feel about this new plan.

In summary, how to make a tough conversation easy is to recognize and focus on stress in your body, breathe, create a positive outcome affirmation, then write down and share the following: the facts (whatever makes this “tough”, as in their behavior, for example), your emotions about the facts, then your needs and wants.

Can this advice “tip” I gave my hairdresser, count for the haircut tip? Or will she have this tough conversation with me?

“When I don’t get tipped

I feel gypped.”


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