From time to time, you're going to encounter perspectives that differ from, and even conflict with, your own.
Because communication is two-sided, being able to express your concerns—and listen to those of others—is essential. Here are some tips for how to do this effectively:
1. Privately approach the issue when timely
Before speaking to the other person, make sure that both of you can address the situation in a positive mood. Aim for a one-on-one and face-to-face conversation so that the discussion is direct:
- “Hey, could we take a few minutes to chat about what happened yesterday?”
2. Be clear and to the point
Describe the event, its impact on you, and your intentions for the discussion. Use “I” statements (e.g. “I felt…”) rather than the more accusatory “You” and/or sweeping statements (e.g. “You always...,” “You never...,” and "All you ever...”):
- “I felt disrespected when you brought your friends over without telling me. I had exams to prepare for and couldn’t focus. I’m hoping that we can work out a better way to make sure we’re both respectful of each other’s living habits.”
3. State your expectations and discuss solutions
Begin with sharing what you’re comfortable with. Concretely say what you hope the other person should do, using the hypothetical approach, rather than using “don’t”:
- “I’m cool with you bringing people over. Would it be possible for you to tell me in advance? I’d really appreciate that, especially when I have to study. What do you think?”
From there, listen to their perspective and work towards a solution.
If you encounter outbursts:
- “I don’t think I’m getting your message. Could we sit down when we’re both more prepared to discuss?”
If they shut you out:
- “I don’t know how we can solve this issue if we’re not talking about it.”
But what if someone approaches you with concerns?
Responding to concerns
1. Listen to understand and consider their interests
When discussing, focus on the issue itself. Show that you want to understand by asking questions:
- “I’m not completely understanding why my bringing friends over was an issue for you. Could you walk me through what happened?”
- “My view’s a bit different from yours, but I realize that this is very important to you. How can we resolve this?”
2. Postpone when needed
If you feel that the discussion is taking an uncomfortable turn, consider delaying it until you can both calmly discuss:
- “I don’t think I’m prepared for this conversation. Maybe we can sit down and talk again tomorrow?”
3. Acknowledge their concerns...
Show you’re listening (e.g. good eye contact). Avoid saying things like “You must feel…” or “You must be…” The other person may not want to hear your assumptions. Instead, try clarifying what you’ve heard:
- Double check: “From what I’m hearing, you felt disrespected because I didn’t tell you that I’d be bringing friends over. You want me to talk to you beforehand next time. Does that sound accurate?”
- Dive deeper: “Could you tell me what you mean when you said 'living habits'?”
- Divide the problem: “We seem to agree that it’s okay to bring friends over. Could we talk more about what you’d like me to do?”
If the other person was hurt by your actions (e.g. “I felt disrespected when…”), own up to your mistakes.
4. ...and edit out “but”
After acknowledging their concerns, you may feel inclined to suggest yours. Avoid contrary words such as “but,” “although,” and “however”—they can lower your chances of reaching an agreement.
Instead, consider using the more constructive “and”s (additive) and “if”s (hypothetical):
- Additive: “You’re saying that I have to inform you beforehand, and I’m concerned about what happens when I can’t reach you. How can we address that issue?”
- Hypothetical: “I’m wondering if you could let me know when you have exams coming up. Maybe this way, we could both know when to avoid bringing people over?”
5. Suggest solutions and ask for theirs
Offering solutions shows you have considered their concerns and are open for discussion:
- “I have some ideas on resolving your concerns. I’m thinking that I’d let you know at least a day in advance. Would that help? What do you have in mind?”
Note that the above tips apply to situations where speaking out will not put you in harm’s way (e.g. physical fights or road rage). In unsafe scenarios, choose to avoid a confrontation.
Regardless of where the conversation goes, be empathetic, be tactful, and be composed. If you can, end on a positive note, and express gratitude to the other person for taking the time to talk.
Try these tips and suggested lines—effective communication can be the skeleton key to resolving concerns.
Sources that informed this post include: 7 Things to Say When a Conversation Turns Negative, Choose the Right Words in an Argument, and Conflict Strategies for Nice People.