How to Tell Someone Something Difficult

You hate their hair, you need a favor, or more importantly you want to express how someone has made you feel – here is a foolproof formula for communicating successfully.

First I recommend reflecting. Whatever it is that you believe you need to communicate to someone, ask yourself:

Does this need to be said? Does this need to be said by ME? Does this need to be said by me RIGHT NOW? 

This line of questioning has spared me from many unnecessary conversations that would have only lead to hurt feelings, lack of understanding, and little to no resolution.

Once you have decided that what you want to share is something that needs to be said by you right now, you are ready to learn the formula. Here are the four components:

  1. Start with what this person is doing right. In any relationship, even one that is forced, such as with a co-worker, we can identify one thing that is slightly redeeming about this person. Suggestions: – “I like how passionate you are…” (for someone who is intense, strict, or high strung) – ” I appreciate your desire to help me…” (for someone who is overbearing, bossy, or a know-it-all) – “I admire how independent you are…” (for someone who is selfish or ego centric) – “I am impressed by your ability to remain calm in stressful situations…” (for someone who is lazy, apathetic, or ignorant)
  2. State the issue by taking ownership of your point of view. You do this by starting your statement off with, “I feel”, “I find”, or “I see that”, as a way to avoid shaming and provoking a defensive response. After presenting the issue, express your feeling (i.e. Irritable, unappreciated, misunderstood). EXAMPLE: “I find that when you _____, I feel disrespected.”
  3. Give them hope by offering a solution. The key here is to be *very* specific. Describe the exact behavior you would like to see. Hint: Saying “pull your weight around here” or “work harder” are not specific statements. Pick one aspect of the issue and give a direct new course of action: “Next time X happens, please do Y”. If the person you are addressing does not feel under attack nor discouraged, the more likely it is that they will actually HEAR what you are saying and are therefore more inclined to change their behavior.
  4. Leave on a high note. It might seem cliche, but giving a friendly goodbye is a good way to avoid awkward tension and also a way to display your maturity and respect for the other person. Ex: “I really appreciate you taking the time to listen to me and I look forward to continuing to work with you.” You could also insert one last compliment by saying “I know that may have been hard to hear, but I knew you could take it well and make the changes I am requesting.”

By offering this formula my hope is that your expression will be thoughtful and effective, rather than reactive and unproductive. If you are still apprehensive about confronting someone, know that your point of view is important, and the more you practice being direct and honest, the easier it will become and the happier and more respected you will feel in your relationships.

“Two things to remember in life. Take care of your thoughts when you are alone, take care of your words when you are with others.”

“Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.”

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