Communication Expert Explains Why We Shouldn’t Shy Away From Uncomfortable Conversations

By Debra Roberts, LCSW

There’s an old belief that women shouldn’t bring up topics because they might make others feel uncomfortable. If we follow that philosophy, we are more worried about the other person and their feelings than expressing our own needs.

This way of thinking is limiting, and it holds women back from expressing themselves.

However, if someone has good communication skills, they can speak their mind easier and bring up important topics without worrying about the other person’s comfort level. As a result, they have a better chance of having a positive outcome, even when it’s a potentially sensitive topic. 

But when talking about effective communication, knowing what you want to say is only half the battle.

The next part of any meaningful interaction is being thoughtful about how you want to express your concerns or desires. How we talk to someone matters as much, if not more than what we are saying. Here’s why: as human beings, our immediate reaction to another person is to how they made us feel, not what they said. So HOW we speak to someone influences how they FEEL during our interaction. 

When my oldest son was in junior high school, we had an interaction where I became impatient with him when he didn’t want to finish his homework or study for a test. I was tired and because of my exhaustion, my frustration tolerance was lower than usual. Instead of owning my tiredness and walking away, we got into an intense disagreement. At one point, I looked at his face and saw how upset he was because of the way I was speaking to him. I immediately felt terrible and apologized. I would never want to hurt my child, but it happened, because I did not think before I spoke and I let my emotions take over.

Think of an interaction when someone was aggressive towards you. Afterward, you probably didn’t focus on the messaging as much as how their aggressive behavior made you feel because that is our usual first response. Then, after we react to how they spoke to us, we think about their words or messaging, but it is not our first thought.

So if a conversation is important to you, and you want to be heard rather than staying quiet, it’s a good idea to plan for the interaction. You can follow this brief outline as a start:

1.   Think of 1-3 takeaways. What is the main topic you want to address? Write down a few short bullet points to help organize your thoughts.

2.   How do you want the other person to feel? What is the message you want them to receive? I refer to this part as stating your intentions upfront, and it is also Step 1 of my communication model, The Relationship Protocol®.

For example:

           “I am upset, and I need you to listen to my concerns.”

           “I don’t want you to feel defensive, but I need to say what’s on my mind, and I hope you will listen to me.”

When starting any significant conversation, the best way to begin is by stating your intentions, so the other person immediately knows the purpose or reason for the interaction. Telling them your intentions provides a structure for the interaction, and it also helps them understand how you want them to respond or feel.

Having practical communication skills is essential for expressing ourselves with ease, even when talking about sensitive or challenging subjects.

Next time, when you have something important to say, think ahead about what you want to say, and how you want to come across. It’s a much better plan than staying silent. Those days are gone.

Debra Roberts, LCSW, is a conversation expert and creator of The Relationship Protocol communication model. Her proprietary and practical approach to communication revolutionizes how professionals work together; it is at the core of The Communication Protocol, an online professional development program for companies and teams. Debra examines existing communication patterns and teaches essential tools for communicating effectively in the workplace and in personal relationships. Her comprehensive approach provides participants with the skills they need to defuse conflicts and create stronger, more positive relationships in all areas of their lives. With a background as an EMDR-certified trauma consultant and licensed clinical social worker, Debra has many years and a wide range of experience extending to all types of challenging relationships in the home and workplace. Featured as an expert on multiple media platforms, including The New York Times, The Cut, and Well+ Good,Debra is an award-winning author, a columnist with, and an occasional contributor to Business Insider. She enjoys empowering people through kindness and simple communication tools.