real life

How to nail difficult conversations.

I’m known for tackling difficult conversations head on.  I’ll talk about periods, bits of my body I hate and even bits of my body that are missing.  I don’t get embarrassed by stuff like that, in fact I relish it.

But like most women people, if you ask me to talk to my boss about a pay rise, my throat closes.  Having “the talk” with a partner is awkward.  Force me to talk to my parents about aged-care options and I want to cry.

Psychologist and career coach, Dr Tim Sharp says wanting to avoid difficult conversations is completely normal.

“It comes up a lot in my work because it’s extremely common.  If we don’t have these difficult conversations, we and the people around us suffer because we’re not dealing with real and important issues,” he says.

If only it was easy as that Oprah…

There are three things that can help (in case you can’t tell I put them into my own words so they are easy to remember).

1. Acknowledge it’s a kind of shitty situation.

“If you acknowledge that you and probably the other person will experience some negative emotions, stress, anxiety, you’ll be less likely to be taken by surprise and more like to be ready to manage those emotions.  Forewarned is forearmed. Be realistic that some degree of distress is normal in these situations.  And that’s okay,” he says.

2. Calm the f*ck down.

“If you’re feeling anxious, take some slow breaths and give yourself some time out.  Don’t rush into a difficult conversation,” he says.

3. Don’t be a drama queen.

“One of the best things we can do and often the last things done is go in imagining a positive outcome.,” Dr Sharp says.  “It’s easy to focus on how the conversation could be a disaster.  But what would be the best possible outcome be?  Focus on solutions rather than on problems.  This gives you a positive goal to aim for.”



Now let’s apply these kick-ass rules to the situations that get you all sweaty.

Asking For A Pay Rise

God.  I hate that I’m so bad at this.  I blame being a woman.  Women are less likely to ask for what they are worth than men.  I’ve started to discuss money with my girlfriends.  We take away the taboo of talking about what we earn and that in turn helps when you have to face the boss about your own income.

The pay gap is real. Back yourself.

Dr Sharp says being prepared is key.

“Firstly do you honestly think you deserve it?  Do the research and come with a supportive argument.  Show work you’ve done and what you are achieving plus what others are earning.  Take the emotion out and state ‘this is what I’m on and this is why I should be on more’,” he says.

Discussing your parents’ future.

Luckily for me I’ve decided my parents will never age or die. Oh hang on…

Discussing options early takes out the emotion.

“It’s tough for adult children to talk to their parents about aged care options, ” says Dr Sharp who’s written a book Live happier,  live longer – your guide to positive ageing.  “One of the most frustrating things is these decisions are often made in car parks at the hospital after mum has the stroke or a bad fall.”

“The earlier you talk about it the better, I suggest from your 40s on! Involve them in the research – there are lots of advantages for working as long as you can and living in your own home so whatever can prolong that is desirable.  There are amazing things we can do with technology today that weren’t possible for my parents. So look at the options and construct a plan.  Then when a decision needs to be made down the track it’s not made under the stress of a health crisis,” he says.


The Relationship talk.

“We need to talk” can mean anything from not enough sex, too much spending or different styles of parenting.  I’m pretty open with my fiance about this stuff but if you’re struggling, Dr Sharp has your back.

Learn what NOT to do by watching Married at First Sight.

“I’m reluctant to promote stereotypes – but men are not as comfortable discussing intimate issues – sex, raising children or family spending budgets. When you’re in an intimate relationship it’s important differentiate between disagreements and fights.  Express to the other person how you feel and suggest solutions.

“It’s important to stay focused on the particular issue.  Too easily a discussion about how the dishwasher is packed becomes ‘you don’t love me any more’.  Stay focused on the dishes.  Don’t over generalise so the whole relationship is at stake,” he says.

Okay.  Time to put on my big girl pants and tackle some of these difficult discussions.

How do you handle hard conversations?

For more:

The 4 life goals of smart women and how to achieve them. 

A very convincing case against setting goals. 

The 7 reasons you’re not going anywhere in your career.