Tips For Working Through Difficult Conversations With Your Friends

Friendships are vital to living a happy and fulfilled life, but navigating them can get incredibly difficult at times. When a friend says or does something that upsets or offends you, figuring out how, when, or whether to address the issue can feel nearly impossible, and lead you to fear losing your friend. Not addressing it, however, can lead to the type of resentment that can quietly kill a relationship over time.


Before you run out to tackle the difficult conversation you've been avoiding, take some time to put together a plan. You know your friend and yourself better than anyone else does, so be sure to tailor your approach accordingly. If you know that your friend is very sensitive, you may want to put extra care into your phrasing, for example. If you tend to become quite reactive, place a great deal of importance on your own mood and mental state before you broach the topic. Here are some tips for preparing for and executing hard conversations. 

Center yourself

Even if you don't tend to be an emotionally reactive person under normal circumstances, entering a difficult conversation with a person whose friendship you value can trigger unexpected feelings to surface. You should always take steps to center yourself before you approach a discussion that has the potential to become confrontational. You can't predict how your friend will react to being asked to address an uncomfortable issue, but your own behavior is 100% within your control.


Engage in an activity that grounds and resets your nervous system before you plan to bring up a difficult topic with your friend. This won't be the same for everyone, but could include practicing mindfulness and meditation, yoga, hiking in nature, painting, baking, or any other activity that makes you feel calm and recalibrated. Once you've released any extra stress or tension, you'll be ready to face a tricky conversation without any extra baggage affecting your reactions. 

Seek to understand

When you approach a topic you're upset, frustrated, or confused about, your goal should always be to understand your friend's point of view. If you come into the conversation with the goal to scold, correct, or "win" an argument, nothing will be resolved. Instead, make it clear from the beginning of the discussion that you're open to the possibility that a misunderstanding has occurred on some level.


Approaching a person with accusations rather than understanding will only result in defensiveness and prevent any progress from being made. Instead, try explaining the issue to your friend using "I" statements instead of "you" statements. For example, saying, "you seem really jealous and bitter about my new relationship and it's getting old," is using a "you" statement that is bound to be met with resistance and defensiveness. Saying, "I feel hurt and discouraged when you make negative comments about my relationship," is a "you" statement that focuses on explaining the way you feel and leaves your friend more open to explaining their perspective. 

Be open about your fears

If you've been putting off having this conversation with your friend because of your fear of losing the friendship, share that with them. If you've been delaying the discussion because you can't stand the idea of hurting your friend or negatively affecting their confidence, let them know. If you had hoped that the issue would resolve itself, but that didn't happen, be open about that process.


A difficult conversation can often leave one party feeling like they've been blindsided and like the issue came up out of nowhere. Sharing your thought process and the fears that kept you from bringing up the topic sooner can ease some of this initial shock. It can also express to your friend how much you value their friendship and their general wellbeing, and how invested you are in maintaining the relationship. The more open you are with your fears, thoughts, and feelings, the more obvious it will become that you aren't, in fact, aiming to hurt or attack your friend in any way. 

Offer to collaborate

A friendship is a two-way street and so is a conversation, no matter how difficult the subject matter happens to be. Being the one who initiated the difficult conversation doesn't mean that you have to be the one to lead or moderate it throughout. Make it clear to your friend right away that you're open to suggestions and compromises and that you seek to use your new understanding of their perspective to identify a solution to the issue at hand.


If the two of you approach the problem between you as two equal collaborators, it become a uniting challenge. This perspective is much more productive than it is to enter the discussion ready to start and "win" an argument. Instead, you both win when the issue is resolved in a manner that protects your friendship and acknowledges both of your individual feelings and concerns. With mutual respect, your friendship can actually grow into one that is healthy and built to last from this experience. 

Listen as much as you speak

It can be tempting to dump as much information as possible when you begin a difficult conversation in an attempt to quickly back up your claims. This can be especially true if you've ben putting off discussing this particular issue for a long period of time. However, make a point of pausing frequently to allow for your friend to contribute to the discussion. Take the time to ask them how they feel, whether you're misunderstanding their viewpoint, and how they feel about your viewpoint.


It's important to understand that listening is more than just pausing while the other person speaks. Your goal should be to engage in active listening, which involves directing your entire attention span to taking in what is being said. You should not be formulating a response while your friend is speaking; you should be listening and processing what is being said. Your body language should reflect this with eye contact, nodding, and facial expressions that show your engagement. 

Seek out support

Approaching a difficult conversation with someone you care about can be a stressful experience. If you're feeling particularly anxious about planning or executing the discussion, talk it over with another trusted friend, partner, or family member first. Reaching out for support from other loved ones can provide you with outside perspectives on the issue that you hadn't yet considered. It can also give you a chance to evaluate your own behavioral patterns from someone else's point of view.


If you're feeling particularly anxious before you plan to have the conversation with your friend, make a plan to call or meet up with a loved one for support afterwards. Knowing that you have support waiting can make it a little easier to get through an uncomfortable conversation, especially if it doesn't go well. At the end of the day, speaking up means that you tried your best to stand up for yourself and preserve the friendship.