The Upside of Difficult Conversations

The UpsideofLike many people, I dislike what can be nicely called “difficult conversations.” Whether it’s saying no to someone,  confronting someone about a task left undone or done poorly, or raising a painful subject, difficult conversations are, well, difficult. A very natural reaction to them, and one I have far too often, is to simply avoid them altogether, or at least postpone them as long as possible.

Well, my new best friend Shonda Rhimes used to do the same thing until her Year of Yes. It may seem a little ironic that a year of saying yes included embracing tough conversations that often center around a no, but there you have it. Rhimes transitioned from dreading difficult conversations to, if not looking forward to them, preferring to have them. She says this is “mostly because of how calm life is when you’re willing to have them . . .between dieting and never saying what I thought, I wasted a lot of time.”

Rhimes elaborates,

No matter how hard a conversation is, I know that on the other side of that difficult conversation lies peace. Knowledge. An answer is delivered. Character is revealed. Truces are formed. Misunderstandings are resolved. Freedom lies across the field of the difficult conversation. And the more difficult the conversation, the greater the freedom.

This idea resonated a lot with me. As much as I do hate the moment of conflict or confrontation with another person, how much worse are the many moments leading up to it in which I mentally play out worst-case scenarios? How much extra anxiety, stress, and turmoil do I cause myself by avoiding the hard stuff?

Because let’s face it, as awkward and uncomfortable as some conversations can be, it is rare that they live up to the horror stories of my imagination. And as Rhimes notes, once they’re over, I’ve typically learned something and am able to look forward to a future that no longer includes this particular difficult conversation.

So for 2016, one of my promises to myself is that when I catch myself avoiding a conversation, to actually have it. I suspect it will be a hard promise to keep, but I intend to try.