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How to have a hard conversation

22 Nov 2018
Whether you want to open up about your mental health, come out, or have another difficult conversation, here are some tips on how to make it easier.

Some things are hard to say. Sometimes we’re scared of how the other person will react, or worried that we’ll get embarrassed or upset. When a conversation seems difficult, it can seem easy to just put it off.

But tricky conversations are usually worth it. They give you a chance to get things out into the open and ask for support for whatever it is you’re dealing with. You’ll also feel a sense of pride that you did something you weren’t sure about. Here are some tips to make those hard conversations easier.

 

Get support

We all have conversations that are difficult but worth it (check out this awesome Ted Talk about it). There are different important things you might feel a bit uncomfortable talking about. They might include:

If you need to have a talk with a particular person (like a parent, partner, doctor or boss) you might like to go to a friend, mentor or sibling first to get some advice on how to approach the subject.

If you want to have the conversation for advice or support, choose a trusted friend or loved one who’s helped you in the past.

You might like to speak to someone anonymously. You can call or drop into your local headspace centre or call Kids Helpline ­(which is for young adults too). Both of them are totally free services.

 

Prepare

The conversation might be going around and around in your head – but that doesn’t mean you know what you’re going to say. When we have strong feelings it’s easy to get nervous or confused, so it's a good idea to do some planning before hand.

Think of how you want to bring the topic up, and jot down the main points you want to say beforehand. This gives you a chance to calm down and work out what you really want to share. You might even like to practice the conversation with a friend or in the mirror.

Work out when and where you want to talk about the issue. Choose a good time and a space where you both feel comfortable, and where you’re safe. It's easier to stay in control of your conversation and reactions when you're sober.

 

Bite the bullet

You might like mention to the person there’s something you want to talk about. Have some normal conversation first to ease into things.

If you want to confide about something (like about your mental health, or gender/sexual identity) it can be best just to say it outright. Often, you’ll be surprised at how positively people react. If you think there's a chance that the reaction might not be positive, it's a good idea to have a safe person on standby to contact or meet up with afterwards. You might even like to have them nearby physically, like in another room.

If the issue is to do with the person, talk about it in a way that doesn’t judge or attack them. It’s always helpful to bring things back to your own experiences, and don’t assume you know what’s happening from their side of things. Using "I" sentences, like "I feel..." or "I notice..." works well. If the conversation starts to feel heated, or you don't think you're communicating well, it's a good idea to end the conversation until you're a clearer headspace. You could move to a different room and talk over text to slow things down and bring more reflection into the conversation.

The biggest conversation skill is listening. Take in what the other person has to say and try not to interrupt. If you notice yourself getting upset, take a breath and wait before you respond. If there’s a problem, think about a solution that works for both of you.

Once you’ve had the chat, remember to congratulate yourself – you’ve just done something that took a lot of courage.

If you’d like to talk confidentially about anything that’s concerning you, get in touch with your local headspace centre today.

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