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How to Make Tough Family Conversations Successful

Gathering with Family and Friends

In order to truly connect with our family and friends, we have to laugh and smile, AND we have to dig in to the tough stuff from time to time. We can’t just float along the surface and expect our relationships (to ourselves and one another) to flourish. Growth requires stretching out of our comfort zones and traveling into the unknown. ⠀

During this time of year, it’s likely that you will find yourself at various gatherings of family, friends, coworkers, and other community members. Having tough conversations with the people you love is an important part of the relationship process. Not every conversation has to be a “big” one, of course. However, stepping up to conversations that matter to you is meaningful and worthwhile work. ⠀

Stepping into Tough Conversations

When something is important to you, I invite you to own it in a way that feels empowering for you. If there’s a topic that you’re passionate about, stay open to opportunities to share about that with your loved ones. When someone says something that rings harmful or problematic, call them in. Remember, too, that as a parent or caregiver, you are modeling self-advocacy for your children and teens.⠀

As you continue to know yourself more deeply, and as you step into difficult dialogues, your family or friends may feel uncomfortable. You may feel uncomfortable too. Because you are meeting your edges, expanding into growth. However, if you trust that these topics are worthwhile, that the relationships are meaningful, and that your heart is ready to speak up, you will be doing important work. ⠀

As you engage in tough and necessary conversations, these 3 tools will help you make a successful connection:

  1. Remember that most conversations are ongoing. They are not one-time talks. Stay patient and know that today you may just be planting seeds, offering a new perspective, or opening the door for continued exploration. Taking breaks or timeouts can actually give you and your conversation partner(s) time to process and integrate. Do your best to understand that many chats will need to end without a clear resolution or solution. ⠀
  2. Use “I statements” to call people in. Focus on naming what is true for you– your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. I highly recommend Nonviolent Communication’s 4 steps as a tool for initiating these chats because they help you take ownership of your experience, rather than pointing fingers at others. 
  3. Other people’s reactions aren’t your responsibility, AND they aren’t personal. The only thing you can control is your own expression, your own reaction. Furthermore, if someone is defensive or uninterested, that’s their story, their work. Keep breathing and remind yourself that discomfort is normal. If a conversation hits a dead end, it’s okay. If you spoke your truth with kindness and authenticity, the seed was planted, and now you can focus on allowing the process to work for you, as well as your conversation partner(s). ⠀

Teaching Truth-Telling

 As you engage in tough conversations with intention and heart, you will be meeting your own needs, engaging in social justice work, and modeling truth-telling for your children and teens. 

These same 3 tools can be used to teach your teenager about initiating and engaging in tough conversations. I invite you to explore these ideas with your family. Together, you might enjoy brainstorming other tips for creating productive conversations to add to this list. 

As you and your family prepare for important conversations, you may also want to consider and name your support systems.  Together, you can document the people, places, and things that bring you the most comfort and calm, so that you can get resourced before, during, and after difficult conversations. 

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