An image of the lower half of a black woman in stripped pants and sandals

“Honestly honey, I think you just need to sit down and have that conversation.”

Why are moms always right? I called mine to talk about a nasty conflict with a friend, and she continually landed on the same piece of advice I was hoping to avoid. No matter how I spun the situation as baffling or obviously the other person’s fault and responsibility—I knew the truth and my mom did too. I couldn’t avoid it any longer. I needed to put my big girl pants on and have an old-fashioned, sit-down, hard conversation. Anyone else just cringe at the thought?

The truth is, no matter how confrontational you might be, hard conversations aren’t fun for anyone. We steer clear of them at all costs, hoping another option will spring forward, like “Oh, there you are…the solution with no awkward meeting, dodgy eye contact or phrases like, ‘So the reason I asked you to coffee is . . . ‘”

Yet, being an adult means doing hard things, even when it is uncomfortable or there seems to be no point. The reality is some things just cannot be solved over text message. (Sorry to burst your bubble, introverts!) As much as we may deem hard conversations to be useless, maturing into the people we want to be means we can’t wait around for them to go away.

Being an adult means doing hard things, even when it is uncomfortable

Hard conversations matter because you do. This isn’t just about the art of conflict-resolution, but this is self-worth in action. When we take a moment to sit down with someone to voice our hurt, our perspective or our needs, we are communicating our own value. You matter, but if you don’t place priority on your voice being heard, no one else will either.

This doesn’t mean everyone will agree or see things as you do, but it’s time you stop choosing the “easy route” at the expense of yourself. Don’t wait for someone to read your mind; take the initiative and reach out. This takes confidence and courage, but the alternative is to avoid what matters to you, communicating to the rest of the world that it doesn’t really matter at all.

An image of the lower half of a woman in yellow striped pants with one foot kicking out

Hard conversations don’t always end in peace or agreement, but what we ignore eventually catches up to us. Avoidance leads to bitterness, and bitterness is a burden too heavy to carry for long distances. So many relationships dissolve at the hands of avoidance, leaving one person in confused shock, wondering what went wrong. Countless people leave jobs because of conflict or discontent pushed aside.

Hard conversations don’t always end in peace or agreement, but what we ignore eventually catches up to us.

Addressing the issue may seem like the worst possible thing at the time, but we risk much worse if we never try. Take your time. Don’t rush into it without a plan. Think through (even write down!) what you’d like to say, and leave room for seeing things from the other person’s perspective. Hard conversations present the opportunity for you to learn, grow and see things from a side unlike your own.

Hard conversations can show the people we love that we are willing to fight for them. Don’t give up so easily. Relationships of any kind require work, compromise, patience and saying tough things. We have to chance not having “the upper hand” all the time and humble ourselves enough to be vulnerable and extend the opportunity to hash out feelings.

Relationships of any kind require work, compromise, patience and saying tough things.

Perhaps the person in your life needs to hear the truth from someone who loves them, even if it’s hard to hear or hard to say. It’s not always about saying the perfect thing, it’s just about caring enough to say something.

If you’re worried about being misunderstood or blowing up, take some time to process through the situation with a trusted confidant who can be a neutral sounding board. This will act as a safe place for you to say everything you feel, so that you can sort through what you really want to say in the hard conversation. No matter what, you want to feel proud of the person you were by the time it’s done. Make sure you bring a thoughtful response to the situation, not a short-sighted reaction.

A lower body shot of a black woman and white woman in pants and sandalsYou may not be able to control the outcome, but what if that’s not always the point? What if the art of hard conversations is in showing up and being willing to have them in the first place? What if it’s about dignifying your voice and also taking the time to listen? Some relationships or situations won’t survive certain confrontations, yet others have the potential to come out healthier and stronger on the other side.

My mom was right . . . she usually is. If I considered giving even half the time I had spent worrying about my conflict to doing something about it, then perhaps things would turn out better than I thought. And even if they didn’t, my personal peace was worth one hard conversation.

Have you ever struggled with the fear of hard conversations? How did you learn to engage in difficult conversations?

Images via Kat Borchart, Darling Issue No. 20

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