Why are some conversations so difficult to have? We all have uncomfortable topics that we find ourselves bargaining to postpone, downplay, or avoid all together. Decades ago as a grade schooler, I remember suffering through an entire weekend in anticipation of  telling my parents of a poor score I received on a math test. In my small world, this felt like a big deal. I was unable to fully enjoy going to the movies with my friends with the feeling of doom that followed me all weekend long. I waited until the last possible moment that weekend  — bedtime Sunday night — to break the news. My parents are caring and reasonable people and yet I feared having to say aloud what felt like an earth shattering proclamation.  They were, not surprisingly, reassuring and calm. In hindsight, I was struggling to reconcile my self image as a smart kid with my low grade, and had neither the wisdom nor self awareness to understand that a single test score did not define me.  

As I have evolved, so too has my understanding and approach towards difficult conversations. I am not talking about unpleasant talks such as sharing a poor annual review with a supervisee (they can improve), or telling your kid they have to miss “the party of the year” to attend their cousin’s wedding (there will be other parties). I mean those conversations that merely thinking about elicits stress sighs, stomach knots, and head spins.   

How big is this hurdle? Does our own gunk – – that negative internal dialogue – – cast doubt on our communication skills?  Or are we afraid of how the recipient will hear and subsequently react to the message?  Both are real concerns and can cause us to dance around what we want to say. We minimize. We sugarcoat. We withhold information. We avoid. You know what I’m talking about.  

For the parents among us, one of the areas I’ve heard folks stumbling over is talking with their kids about sex. For so many of us, talking about sex with our offspring sends us reeling. What are we afraid of?  What would it take for us to feel more at ease in this arena? Imagine if sex conversations with our kids flowed easily in matter-of-fact tones like a conversation about a historical event or a recap of last night’s football game. How empowering and liberating does that sound?  

Stay tuned as I revisit this topic in the future. And please, share your concerns that prevent you from communicating more effectively, though I bet you are much better at it than you think you are.