How to Adult with the Hard Conversations
Finally, I am an adult. That may sound a little strange, considering that I am 50 years old. But “adulting” didn’t come from running a business, raising children, or moving through rites of passage like the death of a parent or buying a house. I came into a real sense of my maturity when I realized that I actually welcome the conversations most people would prefer not to have—you know, the “hard” ones.
You probably have a sense of what your “hard conversations” are. They’re different for everyone, but they require being with intense inner or outer conflict. My hard conversations have ranged from deciding to leave my first marriage, to firing an employee, to setting firm boundaries and saying no to lots of things I would normally have said yes to in the past.
Of course, hard conversations are different depending on the phase of life you’re in. I think about the hard conversations my children—who range from 19 to 25 years old—are facing in their lives. For them, a hard conversation could mean standing up for themselves and asserting their boundaries with people who don’t show them respect. It could require standing strong in their values and convictions, even when their peer group and authority figures don’t feel the same way. It could even mean speaking to the person they have wronged, and owning up to that harmful behavior.
So, you might be thinking to yourself: Why is it so important to have the hard conversations? Why can’t we just accept what is, instead of being so confrontational?
My answer is: Not only is that not realistic, it’s also not desirable.
When we willingly walk away from what we believe, we become more disconnected from ourselves. We learn to hide who we really are. This only makes our lives more complicated. It doesn’t have to be that way. Speaking our truth, even when we fear that it will hurt someone else or cause conflict, can actually be easy. It just depends on how we choose to approach it.
I have met so many women, young and old, who have difficulty approaching “sensitive” topics or conversations with the people in their lives, but for many different reasons. Some of us have a hard time because we are afraid that being honest will make other people think we’re bitches. Others get so nervous that we have difficulty being firm, rational, and strong in our convictions—or we forget what we wanted to say altogether. And some of us are hesitant to face the uncertainty of what our relationships will look like once we let the truth out of the bag.
Often, hard conversations send signals to our brains that there is a sense of “danger,” whether it is real or imagined. When we feel threatened, we move into fight or flight. Plenty of women seem to be hard-wired to make peace with other people immediately (even if it’s at their own expense), displaying passive behavior that essentially says, “You win, I lose.” Others go into defense mode and an “I win, you lose” mentality—ready to do battle and aggressively fight for what they want. And then there are those uncomfortable stalemates where nobody’s having a conversation of any kind, but communication is always tense, uncomfortable, and passive-aggressive. In this case, both parties lose out on the opportunity to communicate honestly, and to learn how to move through the difficult spaces together.
For me, moving into a hard conversation with curiosity and willingness marks an assertive style of behavior and communication. That is, “You win, I win.” Even if we need to talk about things that are difficult, to confront attitudes within ourselves and each other that we’d rather not look at, we can move into assertive communication by maintaining a sense of openness and curiosity that honors both ourselves and the person we need to talk to.
When we communicate assertively, we maintain a single intention: to be real, speak the truth, express vulnerability and courage, and connect rather than disconnect with others.
The hard conversations are valuable opportunities to honor ourselves by coming clean about who we are and what we stand for. The hard conversations are the ones that enable us to live more truthfully and from a place of integrity rather than pretense or artificial appearances created to make ourselves or other people feel better.
When we cover up our true feelings with the idea that it’s more important to “make nice,” this is not authentic peace. In fact, we are betraying ourselves in every sense of the word.
Silencing ourselves doesn’t take away our internal judgments—of either ourselves or others. We place the band-aid of silence and secret resentments onto a gaping wound. And that wound can only be healed through honesty.
Let me be clear: In having the hard conversations, I haven’t always come to great new levels of clarity or resolution. Sometimes the person I’ve spoken with has gotten pissed off, ignored me, or responded with anger and insults. Other times, I have knowingly screwed up and said things that I later regretted, because I was being defensive or sharing too much. There is no exact art or science to doing this gracefully.
Yes, it’s going to be hard at first, but for me, it’s become easier over time. So be patient with yourself. But most of all, recognize places in your life where you might be unconsciously walking away from the hard conversations.
I know that when I feel a ton of judgments coming up—either about me or other people—I am probably avoiding a conversation that would help to air out old resentments and free all the energy I’m spending on criticism and silent grudges.
So ask yourself: What hard conversation am I choosing not to have, especially with myself?
Many of us are tempted to say “hell no” to the hard conversations, and I totally get it. But just think of all the ways they can be easy. They can result in more authentic relationships, especially when we are committed to assertive communication that gives everyone involved the space to create new possibilities for relating to each other.
The thing I love about hard conversations is that after having enough of them, you actually start embracing them! I’m serious! Now that I’ve had so many of these lovely dialogues, I actually feel willing and able to move into them, and I always know when I’m avoiding one.
Instead of twisting the knife deeper into ourselves, or silently fuming at someone else, we can put all our cards out on the table and let everyone (especially ourselves) know where we stand. We also find out where we are challenged and blocked, as well as what we gain when we step out of our comfort zone. Our sense of strength is expanded and we can open up to bigger and better options around potential—both with ourselves and with others.
Tell me about some of the hard conversations you’ve recently had, and the ones you know you need to initiate. Let’s generate some conversation with our sisters and discuss the tools that help us. Talk to our tribe in the comments below.
Learn How to Adult with the Hard Conversations Toolkit for Young Adults
In life, we’re all bound to come up against moments of conflict and the need for hard conversations. During these challenges, it’s important to create space for connection and resolution. That’s why Wf1 created the Hard Conversations Toolkit for Young Adults, which you can call on whenever it’s time to face the conflict head on. Because mature adulting requires clear communication and learning to navigate conflict gracefully.
Wf1 is currently partnering with universities to bring this powerful course to the young people they serve. For more information on how you can share it with young adults in your life, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re interested in bringing the Hard Conversations Toolkit to your university, go here.