Difficult conversations are hard to have even when we are at our best moments. Many of us can often find it quite difficult to provide the response our heart tells us to. Simply saying “no” or responding in the negative isn’t necessarily natural to everyone and many of us respond in the positive just to avoid potential conflict or pain. Unfortunately, the extent of pain created by avoidance can cause much more damage and be far more destructive than the short-term pain that’s caused by simply having the conversation in the first place.
Having difficult conversations takes courage and courage implies fear otherwise, we would call it something else. Instead of giving the silent treatment or complaining or yelling, get clear about what you want/need, then, when inviting or responding to the other person…be willing to ask for it!
Emotional manipulation often comes into play when one is attempting to avoid healthier strategies like direct communication of their needs, mutual intimacy, or vulnerability. As human beings, we all strive to avoid pain when we can, but pain comes with living, breathing, and ultimately truly thriving in the world we were given.
Mastering the art of difficult conversations is a skill often overlooked or ignored. Healthy, fulfilling relationships require the ability to walk through the pain and come out the other side with an intact sense of self.
There are a few personality characteristics that can make functional conversations difficult, to say the least. The three most difficult personality characteristics are detailed below, along with some strategies for effectively managing them. These tactics can be used regardless of the nature of the relationship – romantic, casual, employer/employee, friend, or family member.
Aggressive & Domineering
Ever deal with someone who rarely smiled – even if it was good news? Who talks over the top of others? Who is the first to blame and criticize others and the last to admit any fault?
- Avoid interrupting them, just let them spout their distress.
- DON’T take it personally or respond negatively. “Aggressive people are experienced at making the receiver feel that they are personally to blame” ~ P. Stebbins (Leadership & Team Development)
- Don’t match their tone of voice, stay relaxed, calm and use a firm tone. When you reframe what they say, focus only on the rational components of their comments.
- When speaking with them, use their name, this is a way to “equalize power”. If they continually interrupt you, respond with “What I was about to say before was….” this will let them know that you are aware of their interruptions.
- If they are using foul language or personally attacking you, first ignore, as they are likely just trying to get an equal reaction from you to help feed their “power”. If it continues, end the conversation, and invite them to engage again when they can be more respectful.
Manipulative & Deceptive
“Manipulation almost always involves deception.” ~Dr. Simon, Character Development Coach. Many of these personality types go far beyond irreverence for the truth, they disdain the truth. It gets in their way. And because having their way is their main agenda, they lie to accomplish it. In addition to many of the tactics used on the “Aggressor” above, you can also use the following suggestions:
- Stay focused, take deep breaths, and maintain rational self-talk.
- Stick to the facts and their relation to any necessary/inevitable consequences.
- Once you have made your point and you feel it has been heard, remove yourself from the conversation or ask for some contemplative time. Manipulative people need time for rational thought to sink in.
- Avoid getting sidetracked, this is where the manipulative & deceptive person thrives and conquers.
Highly Emotional or Over-Sensitive
This personality type can be wonderful to be around…when they are happy….and quite distressing and unpleasant when they are not. Helpful strategies for dealing with this personality type are:
- Remain objective, empathetic, and supportive but calm and steady.
- Listen reflectively but reinforce the facts and consequences.
- Remind them of the positives and encourage them to focus on those instead of the negatives.
- Don’t be afraid to repeat the positives. This will encourage them to remain realistic.
No matter what personality characteristic you are dealing with and regardless of the situation (romantic partner, work relationship, neighbor, family member, etc.), stay aware that your goal in having difficult conversations is to reduce (not avoid) conflict and focus on getting your constructive message across.
The only way to combat pain in a relationship is to address it, be willing to experience it, and move through it with an organic confidence in self and holding fast to your truth.