Why Typical Advice For Having Difficult Conversations Doesn’t Work

Plain and simple: The easiest way to have a conversation (with your kids or colleagues) about a difficult subject is to have regular communication about all of the easy topics that occur in everyday life. The better we know each other day-to-day, the easier it is to communicate and share – about anything.

I mean no offense to the myriad of lists designed to help make conversations easier but the reality is your internet search wouldn’t result in the same generic information appearing millions of times if it was actually working. Until there is a significant change in how we relate to one another, at home or in the office, the likelihood for improvement is minimal, at best.

Try Googling “how to talk with your kids” and you’ll find in 0.42 seconds 33.5 million websites saying basically the same thing. You’ve seen the advice in various formats and it looks like this:

1. Be positive
2. Be a good listener
3. Ask the person to repeat back what you’ve said
4. Speak age appropriately
5. Don’t be emotional
6. Be respectful
7. and so on.

This is all good advice but in actuality, the implementation is a lot more difficult especially when you’re in the moment. Furthermore, aren’t these tips generic to any conversation between two or more people?

Now, let’s try Googling “how to talk with your coworkers”. In another 0.42 seconds we find 6.54 million websites ready to help. Their advice is surprisingly similar and includes:

1. Be cheerful
2. Be complimentary
3. Avoid gossip
4. Be responsive
5. Ask for opinions
6. and so on.

Aren’t these tips simply defining the attributes of a nice person? Granted, some of us may need to be reminded but it really doesn’t address the core issue. We can’t talk about the difficult topics when we don’t really know or feel a connection with the person we’re talking with.

Furthermore, one must be careful following the generic advice or you could end up sounding insincere or patronizing. We all know it’s important to “talk with your [fill in the blank]” but when communication has been strained simply finding common ground, much less discussing a sensitive topic, is nearly impossible. Think about the last time you needed to have a sensitive discussion. How did it go? What was your current relationship with the person. How close do they feel to you? How could the conversation been improved, if at all?

Have you ever asked yourself “why?” is talking so important? I mean, beyond the obvious. Talking, or other means of communication (writing, for example), are how we can connect on a deeper level. As much as we think we’re connecting (e.g. texting, social media) our daily behaviors say otherwise. The research is clear and studies show when people don’t feel truly connected they try to compensate with the symptomatic behavior we see everyday such as bullying, shootings, substance abuse, suicide, low morale and productivity, poor attendance, disengagement, etc.

The truth is relationships take time to cultivate because in that time you’re getting to know who the person is and what they’re about. Once we knowsomeone, as a person, we’ll have a much easier time connecting with them on any number of topics, easy or hard. We’ll also have a better idea of how to communicate with that person in a way that works for them and vice versa.

So, the next time you need to have a conversation about bullying, suicide, grades, productivity, attendance or a pay raise, think about how well you really know the person. Chances are the better you know them the easier and less stressed you’ll be initiating the difficult conversations and your efforts will be much better received.


PS. I would be remiss if I did not offer a solution to help build relationships in a simple, fun and easy way. How best to learn about someone then to share answers to simple questions. FamilyeJournal.com and CorporateeJournal.com are two 5-minute solutions that you can use anywhere, anytime and in 72 languages. Try a 30-day challenge and see what a difference it makes and how much happier you’ll be.

Note: This post is an original from FamilyeJournal’s Blog.