Is there a conversation that you’ve been putting off because it feels too difficult?

There are several ways to make the conversation easier and more likely to be successful. Preparation and listening attentively greatly improve the chances of having a positive exchange.

Let’s look at an example of a conversation none of us really want to have – talking with a parent about stopping driving because their sensory impairment has made it too dangerous for them to continue. How to start it and have it end well?

First of all, prepare yourself. Determine your goal – how would you like the situation to look after the conversation? A realistic goal in our example may be to keep the relationship on positive footing while also addressing safety.

Decide what you want to say and how best to say it. It can even be helpful to write a script for your opening comments, as well as determine the points you want to include later in the conversation. Just as important may be deciding what you won’t bring up – you’ll be less likely to reach your goal of maintaining a good relationship if you insist on bringing up your parent’s fender bender from twenty years ago! Practice saying your comments in a calm, non-confrontational way.

Empathize with the other person, both as you’re preparing and during the exchange. Empathy is basically taking an educated guess about how the other person might feel about the issue. In our example, if you want to understand the impact of this issue on your parent, imagine not driving for one whole week. How would this affect your life and how would you feel about it?

Remember, though, that your guess is just a guess. During the actual conversation, you may be surprised at what is expressed. In our case, your parent may actually agree that driving isn’t for them anymore, but may want to save face with others, retain some degree of control, or get your help finding solutions to the inevitable problems that will arise when driving is no longer an option.

Once you’ve prepared, it’s time to bring up the issue. Choose a comfortable place where you can talk privately. Start when you know you’ll both have plenty of time to focus. If possible, pick a time when you are both rested and relaxed. Then, take a deep breath and begin with the opening comments that you practiced.

After starting the conversation, listen much more than you talk. Listening carefully is crucial to a positive outcome. Fully acknowledge any difficulties that the other person expresses, making sure not to discount their concerns. Restate what you heard them say, asking questions to clarify. If they keep repeating their objections, they are probably not feeling heard, so redouble your efforts at listening for their feelings and what they need.

Don’t force a quick decision. It may be best to have several conversations on the same topic when it’s a big issue. Don’t hurry the process just because it’s uncomfortable.

It can be a challenge to listen without getting upset. The issue no doubt brings up strong feelings in you, too. In our example, you may feel angry if your parent resists giving up their license, and afraid they could harm themselves or others. Do your best to stay calm and listen, taking deep breaths to relax yourself. Attempt to fully understand before trying to make yourself understood. The other person will become more receptive to hearing your perspective when you’ve focused on theirs first. Once you’ve heard each other out, the conversation becomes easier and you can begin to fashion a solution together.

No one likes bringing up touchy subjects, but careful preparation and listening can help you successfully navigate a difficult conversation.