5 Steps to Prepare for Tough Conversations in the New Year

Brand Consultant Advice from Washington DCIn these polarizing times, many of us have a loved one whose opinion falls on the other side of a major divide. Do you have someone important to you who has become estranged because a social or political issue came between you? The New Year is a time for beginnings, and a new phase in your relationship with a loved one can start with a phone call. You may be hesitating because you are waiting on them to reach out, or you are afraid of what they might be thinking. Be brave, pick up the phone, but do it with some preparation to have a positive outcome.

  1. Success Isn’t About Winning the Argument

Maybe during your last conversation with your loved one, things got heated and words were said. Maybe it was an exchange on Facebook, or maybe you’ve simply been avoiding this person because you think you know what they will say, and you don’t want to hear it. When planning that call to bridge the divide, make sure you are clear on your intentions. If you are calling a loved one because you want an apology, you are calling them for the wrong reason. Even if your ultimate goal is to persuade them to change their mind about a divisive topic, you need to focus on rebuilding trust first. Know that this first call should focus on checking in, staying calm and maybe even apologizing.

  1. Own Your Story

If you and a loved one are estranged, you had a part in it. You may be avoiding that person or actively distancing yourself. If this followed a fight, you played your own role in the argument, and you may have said some hurtful things as well. Even if the disagreement is heavily one sided, you should take a hard look at why you were so upset – understand yourself so that you can verbalize your vulnerabilities to your loved one. If you trust that your loved one loves you, explaining yourself and giving them the context for your behavior may help them to see your side of the issue, or, at the very least, respect that it is a topic best left alone between you.

  1. Run Through the Scenarios

This call isn’t going to be easy for you. Your last interaction didn’t go well, and time has not necessarily been helpful in healing. If you’ve sorted out that you still want the person in your life, then rehearse the possible directions the conversation can go. Be prepared to have and show empathy by seeking to understand, listen and hear their perspective. Practice and plan to use important active listening techniques like repeating back without judgment and offering validation for their feelings. Finally, be intentional about the time and place of the conversation; find a quiet place and having talking points written down to help you remember what you want to say  

  1. Prepare for the Worst

The last interaction you had with your loved one was bad, and they might repeat their behavior. It may be disappointing or painful to experience. Instead of getting caught off guard, spend some time thinking through what might get said, or how they might behave. It will still be painful, but you will be ready to respond calmly, lovingly and leave the door open for trying again in the future.

  1. Take Care of Yourself

In Burnout, a new book by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski, the authors share the importance of completing an emotional journey when managing stress. They recently joined Brené Brown on her podcast and shared some important insights. These conversations can be considered stressors, something that causes stress in your body. Even if you have completed the conversation and “addressed” a stressor, your body may still be in the fight or flight mode. Take time to go for a walk, watch a TV show or movie that makes you laugh out loud, or even simply spend time with family and friends in a positive environment to help you feel like you are in a safe space again.

These steps are guidelines for a tough conversation with someone you want to remain in your life. Differences of opinion may seem fundamental, but there are always contextual and emotional aspects that can add nuance to the situation. If you love someone, you should make a New Year’s resolution to reach out. Remember, the risk of not having a relationship and living with regret outweighs the risk of the call. 

© 2021 Jennifer Dalton

Jen Dalton is a personal brand specialist with entrepreneurship in her DNA. Her book, Listen: How To Embrace the Difficult Conversations Life Throws at You, is an insightful guide into navigating tough talks. She helps business owners and executives define how they show up as leaders, make the most of their strengths and tend to their legacy, growth and visibility. The author of two books, frequent speaker, podcaster and “Purpose Sherpa,” Jen is a critical resource for any person or company that wants to define their brand and differentiate themselves in authentic,  credible, and relevant ways to the market.