Approaching a difficult conversation with a loved one can be daunting and stressful. But, as with anything important, proper planning can help ease your stress and give you the confidence you need to have a satisfying and productive dialogue. Here are some tips on how to plan ahead.
Set the time and place
Picking the right time and place to have your difficult conversation is key. Before the holiday, express your desire to talk. If you think they'll resist having the conversation, you don't have to be specific about the why; it can be phrased as a desire to catch up with them and see how they've been doing or how they're feeling. Then set a time and place so that it is planned. It's easier to avoid an impromptu conversation versus one that's part of the overall holiday plans. Plan for plenty of time to talk so the conversation won't be rushed.
Example phrase: “I'd like to catch up with you and am wondering if you have time on Tuesday evening for us to sit down together.”
When picking a place to have the conversation, try to find a relaxed and comfortable space that is relatively free of distractions. Picking a more private place will help ensure they're more receptive to talking about sensitive topics.
It's important to note that bringing up issues or having difficult conversations is easier when you make the effort to have a strong relationship with that person before the need to have the conversation arises. This starts by spending more quality time with them. By regularly making time for them, you'll be in a better position to recognize issues as they begin and be able to start the conversation from the existing place of love and support.
Do your homework
To make the conversation less stressful, draft your goals, figure out your strategy, and do your research ahead of time. What do you want out of the conversation for both you and them? If your loved one is having issues that require the introduction of resources, such as community programs or education, come to the table with options to discuss with them. Being prepared with suggestions will shift the conversation from hypothetical thinking to concrete planning.
Remember that your loved one is a partner in this conversation, not your opponent to argue with or give demands. The goal of your conversation is to show your support and work together with them to find solutions.
You Don't Need to Do This Alone
Take the time to consider whether or not this conversation is best had by you alone or if it would help to bring in an ally. If it's a relative, perhaps involving another close family member would be a good option. Furthermore, if it's a parent, discussing your concerns with your siblings before broaching the topic with your parent can help you focus on what's best for your parent and come up with solutions together.
Be mindful of your loved one's key influencers, such as their spouse or best friend. If you are not on the same page as them going into the conversation, they can quickly undermine your efforts and any solutions that you may come to agree on. If you get their support first, they can become your best ally.
Note that the ally you choose doesn't necessarily need to be involved in the actual conversation. They could help you research, plan out the conversation, and assist with practice runs.
Depending on what the issue or conflict is, sometimes it best to bring in a neutral third party such as a lawyer, clergyman, doctor, financial planner, or family friend. These people can facilitate the conversation with your loved one and offer solutions without the fear of creating a strained relationship. This is particularly helpful when the person tends to be resistant or could feel manipulated.
By picking the right time and place, laying out your plans ahead of time, and getting the support of others, you'll give your difficult conversation the best chance for success.