Does the thought of certain subjects coming up at your holiday gathering make you want to run, hide or break into nervous laughter? Politics, diets, rival sports teams, parenting styles… You know, those topics.
Over the holidays, we often have the chance to spend extra time with folks we don’t see much throughout the year. And though that can be a blessing, it can also lead to conversations that trigger or hurt us, inject doubt into our minds about our decisions, or make us uncomfortable.
If any of this sounds familiar, please know that whatever you’re doing to cope right now is enough—as long as it’s supporting you and not creating more stress or suffering in your life.
But if your current coping mechanisms aren’t serving you and/or you’d like some new strategies for setting boundaries in relationships (with family, chosen family, friends, coworkers, you name it!), then you’re in the right place.
Today I’m sharing tips for navigating difficult conversations.
You’ll learn simple, compassionate ways to:
- Share your point of view (if you want to)
- Ask for support from folks, even if they disagree with you
- Listen to opposing opinions or unsolicited advice
- Maintain healthy boundaries that make you feel safe and confident
- Trust your inner wisdom when others question or challenge your decisions
- Find a support system for whatever you’ve got goin’ on (I promise, it’s out there!)
- Gently end conversations you don’t want to have (yes, you are 100 percent allowed to do that!)
Setting Boundaries, Trusting Yourself and Protecting Your Energy During Difficult Conversations
Setting boundaries isn’t always easy, especially when it comes to the people you’re closest to. These strategies will help you stay strong and keep trusting yourself when your resolve is tested or you feel attacked. Here are some of the most common scenarios you might face and how to handle them!
When you want to make your point
I’m sure you’re passionate about something (or many things!) that can be a little touchy when they come up in conversation. For example, one of the reasons I’m vegan is because I care deeply about animal rights. That can be a really sensitive subject for some folks, so while it’s not a conversation I back down from, I do my best to tread carefully. And healthy debate can be fun and educational if we lead with sensitivity and empathy!
Keep in mind that it’s not your responsibility to change anyone’s mind. If you just want to end the conversation, that’s perfectly ok (we’ll talk about how to do that in a bit). But if you want to take this as an opportunity to open up a dialogue, try these tips:
- Feel out the situation. Are the people you’re chatting with open to hearing you out or do they just want to argue? Setting boundaries is about protecting your energy, so don’t waste precious time on a game you didn’t agree to play.
- Listen. The most productive conversations allow everyone to get their air time. Try not to interrupt, roll your eyes, spend all your time planning your next rebuttal and so on. Really take in what the other person is saying and they’ll be more likely to do the same when it’s your time to talk.
- Choose your words carefully. Use language that’s positive and understanding rather than combative and judgemental. Try phrases like, “You bring up an interesting point. Here’s something else you might consider…” and “It sounds like you’ve thought a lot about this! I’m grateful that we can share our unique perspectives with each other.”
- Empower yourself with knowledge, data, etc. If this is a passion of yours and something you do want to talk about when it comes up, be prepared! Root yourself in your why (example: “I’m eating plant-based because it makes me feel better and helps reduce my carbon footprint.”) and get clear on the facts (example: “Actually, humans don’t need to eat animal products to be happy and healthy. Here are some facts about plant-based eaters that inspired me!”).
- Know when to stop. If the discussion goes around and around in circles or starts to get heated, call a timeout! It’s important not to let things spiral out of control because that’s when boundaries get blurry. Agree to disagree and move on if the conversation becomes unproductive in any way. You can always come back to it later!
When unwelcome feedback makes you doubt yourself
It can be really tough to resist the pressure to conform or agree, especially when it’s coming from someone we trust. If you’re second-guessing or doubting yourself even though you KNOW what’s in your heart, keep these tips in mind:
- Do your best to stay grounded no matter where the conversation takes you. It’s normal to disagree sometimes. You can respect someone else’s point of view without doubting yourself.
- Let them know you’re doing what’s best for you right now. You are the number one authority on YOU. Please don’t forget that!
- You are not required to justify your feelings or decisions. Feeling the way you feel is the only explanation you need. Remember what I said before about it not being your job to change people’s minds? It’s also not on you to get people to understand your choices.
- Come back to your WHY. If a challenging chat shakes you up, be gentle with yourself. Sometimes the stress of a disagreement can put us out of touch with our reasons why. Take some deep breaths and connect back to the purpose behind your choices. Ground yourself in why you made this decision/formed this opinion in the first place.
- Give yourself time to reconsider. If an opposing viewpoint DOES make you want to reevaluate, that’s ok! That doesn’t make you weak or indecisive (more like open-minded and wise 😊). Just don’t feel rushed into changing your tune—take the time you need to think about what you’ve learned and return to the conversation if you want to.
When you want to ask for support
Let’s say you’ve decided to start going to yoga three times a week. But because of the schedule, it means you have to miss a family dinner on one of those days and your crew isn’t thrilled. How do you ask for support? Take these strategies for a spin:
- Consider who you’re asking. What’s their communication style? Based on your experience, narrow in on the approach you think they’ll respond to best. Short and sweet? A written note? A formal pitch with with a PowerPoint presentation? 😉
- Share what’s meaningful. One of the best ways to ask for support is to lead with the words, “This would be meaningful to me.” Once folks understand where you’re coming from, it’s easier to support you. It’s also easier to not take things personally.
- Make a trade. Some good, old-fashioned bartering can come in handy in these situations. Maybe one of your family members feels overwhelmed in the kitchen and could use some help before you head to class. Offer your support. Just make sure it’s a balanced exchange more often than not. While the effort in relationships isn’t always going to be 50/50 (sometimes you give more, sometimes you take more), you deserve to get back the energy you give.
- Choose wisely. Just because they love you, doesn’t mean they should be your support system for everything. Take a moment to consider if this is the right person for the job. Sometimes setting boundaries also means accepting what a person can and cannot be to you.
- Accept the outcome. So what happens if you ask for support and the person just can’t meet your needs? I know how disappointing this can be, but do your best to accept it and move on. Don’t push or guilt trip—it rarely helps. If this friend or family member is usually there for you, cut them a break. You can find the support you need elsewhere… and you always have access to it within.
When you want to end the conversation
Sometimes, you just don’t want to talk about it. There’s nothing wrong with that and it doesn’t make you rude, stubborn or inflexible. But because we’re taught to be polite (sometimes to a fault), it can be really hard to promptly shut down a conversation.
But when it comes down to it, it’s pretty simple. You can end a convo with compassion and kindness in just a few words. The tough part is sticking to it when you get pushback. Here are a few phrases I’ve had success with:
- “I’m really protecting my energy around this topic, can we talk about something else?”
- “This isn’t something I’m comfortable talking about right now, let’s move on.”
- “I’m not looking for advice about this, but I appreciate the offer!”
- “I can tell you’re passionate about this, but I’d prefer it if we changed the subject.”
- “I’ll enjoy our time together more if we don’t talk about this—thanks for understanding!”
You have big, bold dreams for your life.
And ya know what? Anything big and bold is bound to attract some attention. Try seeing opposition as scenery on your journey. You can notice it, acknowledge it and even pause to check it out. But it doesn’t have to stop you or throw you off course.
You are wise, valuable, worthy and capable. Your dreams are important and the world needs you to keep chasing them! You’re also not alone—I’m here with you, every step of the way.
Your turn: What do you want to set some boundaries around? Let me know in the comments so we can support each other!
Peace & healthy boundaries,
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