Updated: Sep 26, 2022
It’s no secret that many of us find it difficult to have conversations with our friends especially when it when we're not sure how to start the conversation, let alone how they'll react to what we eventually pluck up thje courage to tell them. Often, we don’t want to come off as desperate or needy, so we bottle up our feelings and don’t say anything. But not being honest about how you’re feeling can lead to resentment and can put a strain on your friendship. So, how can you have these types of conversations with your friends without causing any damage?
Why we need to have difficult conversations with friends
I've often heard iterations of the idea that the more difficult conversations we're prepared to have, the better our life is.
Unlike relationships where we can feel more comfortable explaining our wants and needs and expecting our partner to respond positively, we're not so much in the habit of doing so with our friends, and we certainly weren't taught how to bring it up. You might even find that you don't know how to have any of those difficult conversations, or only have poor, ineffective models for doing so, that you cover it up with the excuse of "I hate confrontation", thinking that bringing these wants and needs up with friends might push them away, or worse still, that they'll get angry.
But bottling these feelings up only leaves you feeling with the way things are, and how they aren't how they used to be, and sad that you're letting your friend go. Instead, if you build up the courage and try out the structure below, you'll have the chance to keep your friendship going for the long run. It's a brave move to be vulnerable with your friends, to open up and tell them how you're actually feeling. It's so uncommon for a lot of us, that it's often surprising how positively our friends can respond and that it makes for more open conversations going forwards too.
Using "I" statements to start a difficult conversations with friends
We can feel nervous starting a difficult conversation, and "I" statements offer both a structure and a non-confrontational way of sharing how you feel.
An "I" statement is structured as follows:
"I feel ___(insert emotion)___ when ___(insert event/action)___ because ___(why it's important).
This is then followed up with an "I need" statement, explaining what you'd like to happen going forwards to rectify the situation.
For example, you might say something like, “I feel upset when we argue because I feel like you’re not really listening to me.” This will give your friend a better idea of how to approach the conversation and what they can do to help make things better.
In the case of having a conversation with your friend to address the fact that you no longer spend as much time together now she's got herself in a long-term relationship, you could say the following:
"I've noticed that we haven't been spending as much time together recently, and it makes me feel lonely because I think you might've forgotten about me! Sill I know, but it does make me worried. Would we be able to get a date in the diary to catch up soon?"
Whilst the structure hasn't been followed to the letter (it can feel very rigid sticking with the exact words, in a particular order) there is value in adapting it for your own writing style. Whichever way you delivery it, as long as the key elements are there, you'll still get the benefit of using an I statement. By bringing the focus onto "I" and how you feel about the scenario, there is less "blame" or "accusation" towards your friend and instead, it will help your friend understand your perspective and how they might be able to help.
Tips for continuing the difficult conversation with friends
Listen to their side: It’s also important that you listen to your friend’s point of view, if there is one. This can be difficult, especially if you feel like you’re not being heard, but it’s important to remember that there are two sides to every story.
Try to avoid getting defensive and really listen to what your friend has to say. This doesn’t mean that you have to agree with them, but it’s important that you at least hear them out. Oftentimes, simply being heard can make a world of difference in how someone feels.
Find a compromise: Once you’ve both had a chance to speak your minds, it’s time to find a compromise that works for both of you. This can be difficult, but it’s important to remember that both of you need to be happy with the outcome of the conversation. It won’t work if one person is always getting their way or if nothing ever changes.
Don't take things too personally: It can be easy to take things too personally when you have a difficult conversation with your friend, but it’s important to remember that not everything is about you. Sometimes people say things in the heat of the moment that they don’t really mean or they might not even be aware of how their words are affecting you. And no matter how good your "I" statement, sometimes friends will still get defensive.
Communicate openly and honestly: Last but not least, it’s important that you communicate openly and honestly with your friend throughout the entire process. This means being honest about your feelings and being respectful of their feelings as well. Avoid name-calling or speaking in absolutes (like “always” or “never"). Instead, focus on finding common ground so that you can continue moving forward in your friendship together
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