Difficult Conversations

The Art Of Having Difficult Conversations And Remaining Great Friends

How can we have DIFFICULT conversations without risking our friendship? This topic came up in a conversation with a couple of dear friends. I shared with them that when I grew up in Germany, it was not uncommon to have heated debates about politics (and soccer) over a beer or two. No matter how hard they argued with each other, they remained friends.

When I came to America in 1989, I soon realized there were some “touchy” subjects, for example, religion and politics. You might be better off not discussing them, or at least be careful whom you talk to and how.

Is Avoiding “Difficult” Conversations The Best Practice? 

How important is it that we hone the art of having conversations about topics where we disagree? Without the fear of impacting our relationship negatively? 

The conversation is about a topic, not us as friends, family members, acquaintances, neighbors, and colleagues.

I think it is essential. Because if we don’t have the skill or courage, then we only talk among the people we anticipate will agree with us. If we are so limited in whom we discuss potentially controversial topics, we do little to advance our thinking. We miss out on exposing ourselves to new perspectives.

How Can We Discuss “Difficult Topics Without Getting Feelings Hurt?

How then can we do it? How can we talk about something we disagree on and not have it impact our friendship or relationship? How could we do it in a way that might even improve our relationship?

It seems to me it is easy and difficult all at the same time. When you master this art, you speak to more people about a greater variety of topics. 

  1. I think it all starts with respect and safety. I respect you; you respect me – no matter what perspective each of us voices. You are safe with me, and vice versa. We are discussing the topic, not each other’s worthiness. No matter what, we will not think less of each other after this conversation.
  2. Everyone involved needs to bring listening ears. It can’t be just about convincing the other person of your view. Each side must be willing – and ideally, eager – to learn something new.
  3. Be clear on the purpose of the conversationA common purpose paired with respect and safety is a must for talking successfully about anything controversial. An easy common purpose can be your desire to learn something new. Let’s learn more about the other person’s thoughts or feelings about the topic.
  4. I am reminded of what the authors of “Crucial conversation” have taught us. Always watch the context of the conversation (safety, respect, and shared purpose). Don’t get so immersed in the content of the conversation that you lose sight of that. We are not necessarily wired that way. It takes practice. But it is well worth doing.
  5. Some reassurance might be helpful. No matter how you think and feel about this topic, I still love and appreciate it as much or more as before.

I’m Curious

What are we missing out on by keeping ourselves and others “safe” and not discussing topics where we may have differing perspectives? By the way, here is another question. How can a (representative) democracy function when we can’t have safe and respectful exchanges of thoughts?