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How to Initiate Difficult Conversations

So…there is something important nagging in your brain that you need to discuss with someone in your life. You know you need to have this difficult conversation. However, you are struggling with figuring out how to initiate it. Here are a few tips to help you get started and navigate initiating difficult but necessary conversations!



-Use I-statements 

-Be genuine and empathetic

-Initiate when you are both calm and basic needs are met

-Know when to take a break


  1. Reflect: Take some time to reflect and understand what your intentions are with having this conversation. Ask yourself what is your goal for the conversation and explore how you feel. Taking time to understand what you want to communicate and how you want to express yourself can give you clarity going into the conversation. 
  2. Use I-statements: The I-statement structure is: “I feel (emotion) when (explanation)”. Using this sentence structure allows you to focus on expressing yourself clearly by identifying your emotion and taking responsibility for your thoughts and feelings. Using you-statements such as “You don’t ever help me around the house!”, can cause the other person to feel like you are placing blame or attacking them. If the person you are speaking to feels attacked, this may lead to a defensive response and start an argument. Examples of I-statements include: “I feel frustrated when you use your phone while I am trying to communicate with you.” and “I feel worried when you come home late and do not call to let me know you are safe.” This allows for more clear and direct communication of what you are feeling and why you are feeling that way. You can follow up I-statements by exploring solutions and identifying how the person you are speaking to can support you. 
  3. Be genuine and empathetic: Be honest with yourself and with the person you are speaking to about what you are discussing. Whether it be emotions, thoughts, or concerns that you need to express, being genuine and honest can take the conversation much further. While it is important to identify your own emotions, understand that the person you are speaking with will have an emotional response throughout the conversation also. Allow them the space to share as well and be empathetic towards them. Modeling empathy by actively listening and reflecting what they are expressing to show that you understand can help foster healthy communication even during very tough conversations. 
  4. Initiate when you are both calm and basic needs are met: This may seem like a given but you do not want to strike up a conversation if either of you are sleep-deprived or if you haven’t eaten yet. This can be a recipe for disaster and things can go south in the conversation very quickly. Choose a time when you know that you will have the ability to dive fully into the conversation with little to no distraction and when you and the person you wish to speak to are in a calm state. Starting a difficult conversation if you or the person you are needing to speak with is already emotionally heightened could lead to a lack of understanding and clarity in communication.
  5. Know when to take a break: Understanding when the conversation has gotten to a point where it is no longer productive is important. Once you both recognize that things are escalating or that you seem to be going in circles, discuss taking a break from the conversation to calm yourselves and come back to the conversation with a clear head. Be sure you are communicating with the person that you are talking to and that you are asking for a time-out. Do not just up and leave the conversation and expect them to understand what you are doing. It is also important to be sure to agree on a time that you will come back together to try to continue the conversation to ensure that you will come to a resolution rather than sweeping it under the rug and going about your day. 

Avoiding hard conversations may give you short-term relief but in the long term, it will just create further dysfunction. While having difficult conversations can be uncomfortable, it is necessary. Hope these tips can provide some tools and suggestions on how to initiate those difficult but important conversations! If you or you and your partner need assistance with navigating communication, we are here to help! Reach out to us at for a free 10 to 15-minute consultation.