How to Have Difficult Conversations with Friends and Family

Believe it or not, this is a blog post that I’ve been working on for a while… probably since last fall. But it never felt like the time was ‘right’ — that is until now. A large part of being consistently anti- racist is sitting down and talking. It isn’t enough to sit back and not ask questions of where your friends and family members stand on the topic of race. In my opinion, silence equals complicity. So today I wanted to talk about how to have difficult conversations with friends and family. Most of the tips here are actually not geared toward discussing race specifically. Rather, I tried to make sure the suggestions can help no matter what the topic of discussion is. I hope it helps you!

6 Tips to Help You Have Difficult Conversations with Friends and Family

Be respectful of each other

Entering a difficult conversation from a place of respect, honesty, and openness is truly the most important part of this in my opinion. If you and your family member or friend can’t enter into a discussion without being respectful of each other, it’s hard to imagine any change or progress being made. I also think part of this is not being afraid to voice your opinions, especially if you tend to be a people-pleaser like me. If the topic is something you feel passionate about, don’t worry about the person not liking you anymore. It’s just something you need to let go of in order to truly talk it out.

Be clear with your thoughts first

I’m definitely someone who likes to work on stuff as a collaboration, but that doesn’t always serve me in scenarios where I’m trying to have a tough conversation with a loved one. Make sure to set aside time prior to talking where you can get your thoughts in order and prioritize how and why you want to talk. And it’s totally ok to make notes or a list. I’m a huge list-maker and sometimes a cheat sheet is just the thing I need to stay on track during difficult conversations.

Be direct

To me, there are shades of bluntness… you don’t have to be so blunt that you’re hurtful, but you also don’t have to pussyfoot around what you’re trying to say either. Again, this is where having notes for yourself really comes into play. You’re able to prepare ahead of time and feel like you’re saying your message the way you intend to.

Establish ground rules together

I know this can be hard if you’re approaching someone to talk and they aren’t totally aware of what’s coming. Establishing rules for how to have the conversation is so important though. Rules can include not interrupting each other, avoiding put-downs like mimicking someone’s voice or literally pointing fingers, and sticking to the topic at hand. Another one that is really important is to avoid using generalizations like “you always…”

Be curious

I definitely believe that curiosity is one of the most important traits to have. It’s just something that’s very important to me and how I prioritize my goals. When having difficult conversations, try your best to be curious and inquisitive about why the other person feels the way that they do. Admittedly, this can be really hard. Especially in matters of race because I literally cannot wrap my mind around why someone would think it’s ok to be racist. That being said, while there is no excuse for racism, upbringing and environment impact a person’s experience. And I genuinely think that being curious about someone’s feelings is different than saying they are ok.

Give it time

First of all, make sure to actually carve out the time when you can both talk without interruption. As much as it sucks to drop the “We need to talk” bomb on someone, it helps to signal that time needs to be set aside to have the conversation. Second, keep in mind that change doesn’t happen overnight. Yes, it’s possible to have a major breakthrough and eye-opening moment, but chances are both parties will need time to digest and reflect. So give each other the space and time needed for that to happen! And don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t “stick” right away. The key is realized how important these relationships to you and how important it is for you to talk freely with them.

For even more tips, I also recommend reading this post by author Judy Ringer. There’s some REALLY good info there. And I’d love to know what other tips you have for having hard talks with friends and family, especially right now. Leave a comment and let me know!

Behind The Blog

Joanna Hawley-McBride is a Pacific Northwest-based social media strategist, content creator, and former textile designer. Joanna is the founder and editor-in-chief of Jojotastic, a lifestyle blog focused on Joanna’s work-in-progress cabin, finding the best pair of underwear through #UnderwearThesis, and empowering women to explore nature — all in her signature unfiltered style. Her work has been featured in Domino, CNBC, and Eating Well.

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