How to Have Tough Conversations the Right Way

Have you ever gotten into a heated argument with a friend or family member that left you enraged? Perhaps the argument resulted in tears or shouting. Maybe you even feel you can no longer talk to that person anymore. I (Tiffany) have definitely been there. It can be frustrating when someone disagrees with you so much. How could this person you are so close to disagree with you so strongly?


Today, wherever we go, it seems that arguments are inevitable. At family gatherings relatives find themselves in a political debate that results in shouting rather than discussion. At school, you have likely encountered disagreements and even fights with friends over your different perspectives on a variety of topics. Social media is yet another place where arguments on topics such as abortion, sex education, politics, and mask mandates run rampant. Many times when encountering a major difference between friends, family, or strangers on the internet, our fight or flight response is triggered. We scream our opinions over our opponent in hopes they hear us or we drop the conversation all together in an attempt to salvage the relationship. But this frequently creates an even bigger divide and leaves us feeling misunderstood and angry.


But, what if you could have difficult discussions effectively? Where both parties feel heard without making personal attacks? 

Here are our top 8 suggestions on how to have tough conversations the right way:

Tip 1: Discuss your goals & boundaries for the conversation.

Once you begin to disagree, lay out your goals for the conversation. Let that person know your boundaries. For example, you may say things such as “I will not tolerate name-calling or personal attacks and WILL leave the discussion if you do.” Here are some more examples: 

“Before we begin, I do not want to discuss x,y, z, right now.” 

“I really want to hear your side of the story, but you must listen to my side in return.”

“I just want to let you know I don’t feel comfortable talking about x or y right now.” 

“My goal is not to change your mind, just for you to hear me out.”

Tip 2: Empathize and listen to the other speaker(s).

Remember it’s a conversation, so it’ll be a lot easier to reach an agreement once you try to listen to the other person. Similarly, you would want to be empathized with- so reciprocate.

Tip 3: Listen to understand NOT respond.

Oftentimes when we engage in discussions where two parties have opposing views, we become so focused on telling our side of the story that we forget (or simply no longer care) to listen to our opponent. But we have to remember that the goal of conversation is to not only share, but also listen to the other participant. Unfortunately, that goal is often lost in the crossfire of a heated argument. 

Tip for next time: Take a deep breath and try to listen to the other person’s perspective even if you know you will not agree with them. Listen with the goal of understanding that person and where they are coming from. Your conversation will likely end on a better note than if you both keep talking over each other. You may even realize you CAN have tough conversations without damaging your relationship.

Tip 4: Don’t hesitate to ask for a break.

We’ve all misspoken during a debate or said something we wished we hadn’t. One of the biggest fallacies we can commit is speaking passionately rather than logically. While passion and emotions aren’t always a bad thing, they can often blind and control us. Remember this is a conversation and you respect the other person.

Tip 5: Ask questions and allow others to ask questions

In order to understand another person’s perspective to our best ability, questions are essential in our understanding. Asking your opponent why they believe what they do or how they came to a certain conclusion can be a great way to better understand them and their beliefs. After you ask your questions, allow them to ask you questions too!

Tip 6: Don’t make it personal. (No personal attacks).

I CANNOT emphasize this enough. Many arguments are unsuccessful because we lash out when we feel attacked. When someone starts questioning or denouncing your beliefs, it can feel as if they are attacking you. You may respond by belittling a friend or even calling a family member rude names. It is important to remember that when we become angry, we cannot resort to personal attacks. If you feel the need to belittle your opponent (or they belittle you) you have every right to take a step back from the discussion and take a break. Personal attacks are also a lazy way to get your point across and will likely be used against you in the discussion.

Tip 7: Remain firm on your beliefs and feelings but also avoid any biases.

To elaborate on this, it’s important to have an open mind during any difficult conversation. Be willing to concede to some points if needed, but also keep up with your arguments.

Tip 8: Keep trying.

Having tough conversations is not something we can learn to do overnight. If you have an unsuccessful conversation, try again after you’ve taken a break. Let yourself calm down and clear your thoughts before going back into the issues. Try implementing these tips and ideas of your own that would help prevent fights and keep the conversation civil. 

Overall, tough conversations will always be hard to have, but they are necessary and inevitable. We hope these tips and tricks help you work through difficult arguments and inspire you to stand up for yourself, others, and your opinions!

Resources to help you have tough conversations:

Watch this video!

By Amirah Khan and Tiffany Leveille
Edited by Tiffany Leveille
Title graphic by Rachel.

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