University life is fraught with plenty of difficult and intimidating conversations, which many students try to avoid like the plague. Some of these conversations lie within the academic sphere, such as explaining to a professor why you think you deserve more marks on a midterm. Others lie within the social and emotional sphere, such as disclosing to friends the effects of low marks on your self-esteem and asking for support. But sometimes, the most difficult conversations are the most important.
Many students struggle with asking something from others, and/or disclosing information about themselves. For example, telling someone that we no longer want to be in a relationship with him or her, and then having to explain why, can be very difficult. One reason why such conversations are challenging and stressful is because most of us do not have a lot of experience at this, and most of us don’t want to cause others suffering. Nobody likes to give or get bad news—and it is doubly worse when you are the messenger!
However, avoiding these conversations can lead to negative consequences. By not having the conversation about what we need from others, especially when we perceive the need to be great, we are denying our own needs, which can be stressful, and this can also lead to the deterioration of relationships. A prime example of this is asking roommates to contribute more fairly to their share of chores.This is often awkward and unpleasant. But, if you do not address the issue, then you run the risk of resenting your roommates for something they may not even realize is irritating you. You are also missing the opportunity to reach an understanding and resolve the issue.
So, is there a way to make it easier to have heavy conversations? Yes. And it is not unlike exercising: the more you do it, the better you get at it, even though the exercise itself may not get any easier.
The approach that one takes when having a difficult conversation is important. Here are some techniques that have worked well for me:
- Go into the conversation with the intention of acknowledging both your feelings as well as the other person’s feelings—and then reaching an understanding. I have gotten to know my roommates very well using this approach. Difficult conversations are a great place to learn about other people’s values and attitudes.
- Be calm. An emotionally charged conversation conducted by a highly emotional person is a catalyst for disaster.This situation is usually unproductive because nobody understands why the other is feeling the way they do.
- Be prepared to really listen to what the other person has to say. Again, this encourages mutual understanding and respect.
So, the next time you feel like avoiding a difficult conversation, just remember: if you never ask, you will never get.
What are some strategies that have worked for you?