Hard Conversations

Did you ever wonder what might make a conversation seem “hard?”

June 8, 2021

It is not uncommon for us to hear people say things like, “That will be a hard conversation.”

Did you ever wonder what might make a conversation seem “hard?”

Here are some things that occurred to us that might be going on:

1.  Having that conversation, I experience emotions that I don’t like. Or I’m afraid that I will experience them. (Fear, of course, is just another emotion.)

2.  There’s something I want to accomplish with this conversation, and I’m not succeeding.

3.  I’m afraid that the conversation could lead to bad consequences (like divorce!), so I have to be very, very careful.

There probably are more things that could be in the background of “That was a hard conversation,” but let’s look at these for now.

#1 is about unpleasant emotions, including fear. We don’t imagine anyone ever died of an unpleasant emotion, so you could just open your mouth and say what the emotion is and see what happens. That’s not actually hard.

#2 is about some goal you have, and we notice that many, many times the goal in a “hard” conversation is to convince the other person to see things from our point of view, from our perspective. That’s not just hard; it’s impossible. You might persuade someone to capitulate and do things your way. Or you might fail to persuade them. Either way, it’s not really “hard.” It may be unlikely. What’s easy, though, is to tell the other person what you are really up to. “I’m just trying to convince you to do this the way I want you to do it.” Or maybe,“I would like to know that you care about what I think.”

#3 is, of course, all about fear. As far as we can tell, fear is part of being human, and it’s not going away. Fear shapes our relationships, driving us into them for a sense of safety, driving us out of them (in search of a greater sense of safety, perhaps), or nibbling around the edges of our relationships, like the nagging fear that something bad will happen to a person we deeply love. Getting rid of fear isn’t hard; it’s impossible. In the presence of fear, one thing that is not hard (though it may take courage) is to tell the person you’re in a relationship with what you’re afraid of. And if you are afraid to say that you’re afraid, maybe you could say “I’m afraid to admit that I’m afraid.”

When we say that a conversation is “hard,” we are importing qualities of things that exist in the world of physical objects and assigning them to things that exist in language. If you want a physical object to change in a particular way, you need to apply force. Cutting down a tree or moving furniture can be hard, maybe even too hard for you to accomplish.

But conversations don’t exist in the world of physical things. They may be unpleasant, they may be unsuccessful, they may be hemmed in with fear. But “hard”? We think not.

Next time you hear yourself or someone else describing a conversation as “hard,” why not dig a little and see what’s lurking behind that word. Let us know if you find something interesting.

We’re glad that conversations aren’t hard. Because conversations are a place where relationships happen.

All our best,

Carol & Paul

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