We’ve all been there.

We want or need to broach a ‘delicate’ or ‘uncomfortable’ subject with someone:

  • with our partner about sex
  • with a good friend about returning money to us
  • with our boss about a raise

and we chicken out, we postpone, procrastinate, pretend everything is fine and we don’t need to talk about it, let the subject go around and around in our heads until it hurts.

We’re afraid of messing it up, of ‘bringing’ the subject in the wrong way, of getting emotional, of looking stupid or not having the right arguments.

Pick the right moment

My kids always ask for things at the worst possible moments: when I’m unloading groceries, when I’m on the phone, when I’m trying to figure out where we’re going and the gps is not doing what I want.

There are good moments and bad moments for every conversation, request or favor. Make sure you’re calm, won’t get interrupted and above all, that the situation is comfortable for the other person (not only you).

Ask yourself as well if the discussion can wait: it is never good to immediately react to something that upset you.

Be in the right mood

Before any such conversation, make sure you are not tired or hungry.

Make sure you’re calm. Get rid of any angry or upset emotions you may have before you start the subject. Because anger begets anger and attacking makes the other person defensive.

Don’t procrastinate

The longer you wait to have the conversation the more difficult it gets to have it and the bigger the elephant becomes.

When you finally have managed to build up the courage to talk to the person, broach the subject immediately instead of small talking your way to it (or out of it). If you put the difficult subject at the end, chances are the other person feels cheated as to the real reason you’re calling. Best to start by putting the elephant in the room straight away.

Define the ‘problem’ or subject

  1. Is it a problem? ie. do you actually need to talk about it? Often times problems exist in our head and when we finally mention them to the other person, we realize it wasn’t a problem to start with.
  2. What exactly is the problem? What exactly do you want to talk about? The clearer you define the problem and let it run through your head a few times, the better.
  3. Also define WHY you are dreading to talk about this subject. Procrastination of a task has most often more to do with ourselves than the other person or the actual task. It’s our attitude to the subject that should be looked at. Maybe you need to define a different way of approaching the subject

Set your intention

Who do you want to be in this discussion? A confident, calm person willing to find a solution.

How do you want to feel in this discussion? Happy, calm, sure of yourself, relaxed, funny, …

What is the best outcome? Visualize yourself at the end of this talk. What does it look like?

Stare at the worst case scenario

Ask yourself ‘what is the worst that could happen?’ The other person could say no, laugh at you, refuse your request, be angry with you.

Then ask yourself: is that really the end of the world? We often tend to make situations much worse in our head.

And please, do not overplay the worst case scenarios either! Okay?

Get help

If you fear that your emotions will take over, that you will not get all the facts straight or might tend to forget something, use notes to help you along.

You may also want to take notes during the conversation so that you remember things afterwards.

In some difficult cases, you may want to get the help of a (capable and neutral) friend, or mediator to help steer the subject.

And don’t forget: nothing is too big or bad not to bring up. And no matter the final outcome, you still did it and grew because of it.