By Cynthia G. Dowling, MA, LMFT, Integrity Counseling Services — Many clients come to me experiencing anxiety after exploring relationships in their lives, whether they are personal, work or community-based. Together we often find that they are feeling stuck in certain aspects of their lives because of a fear of having difficult conversations. Very few people enjoy hurting someone they love and care about. This fear or apprehension — holding one back from having a difficult conversation — can lead to feelings of anxiety, resentment and frustration. Identifying strategies for having these important conversations can lessen anxiety and increase the likelihood of people overcoming their fear.

Here are strategies I’ve outlined below:

Be mindful of your approach. Choosing your words thoughtfully, and making sure you speak in a kind tone, can start your conversation in the right direction. If one starts a conversation in an angry, frustrated or blaming tone, the other person will immediately feel defensive.

Stay on topic. Think about what you are hoping to accomplish in your conversation. Then, decide what your talking points will be and stay focused on them. During this process keep in mind what you feel you need to say to feel heard. Make sure to only bring up one or two topics in the conversation. More than that could cause the person you are confronting to feel overwhelmed and attacked.

Refrain from insults or putting the other person down. Whatever the issue is, it is causing you to feel a certain way. Make sure to speak using “I” statements, owning your feelings. “I” statements are a helpful way to take responsibility for how you feel or what you believe, and they help the listener to not feel blamed.

Think about possible outcomes. What would be the best-case scenario for the outcome of the conversation? What could be the worst? Know that the outcome will most likely be in the middle of the two scenarios.

In person vs. a letter/email.  Sometimes people feel they can be more to the point and less emotional by writing a letter or email vs. an in-person conversation. A letter/email can also be helpful if the person you need to speak to has a history of being reactive or defensive. The downside of this option is the possibility that you won’t receive a response.

Be open to compromise and hearing the other person’s perspective. Having difficult conversations opens us up to receiving feedback that could be positive or negative. Having knowledge of this going into the conversation is important. It is important to be open to finding a compromise moving forward. Having the ability to see our own imperfections or faults is hard; however, it is part of the process of growing and healing.

Having difficult conversations can be scary. The reality is the conversation will never go exactly as planned and that is OK. If you are holding back from addressing an issue and it is resulting in anxiety or frustration, it is important to vocalize what has been bothering you. The more you have these difficult conversations, the easier they become. Speaking the truth to someone in a kind and respectful way can result in feeling as if a weight has been lifted off you. The results of speaking your truth can be life changing.