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  • Writer's pictureLisa Jones

Communicating a difficult issue

Have you ever tried to broach a sensitive topic with another person and left the conversation feeling as though you have done something wrong? You may even have apologised for upsetting them. This is a confusing situation and one you can recognise and overcome when communicating a difficult issue.

Ask the other person for some time to discuss something that's on your mind. They may push back but you can emphasise to them how important it is that you address the issue. Find a time and place when you have no other distractions.

Prepare what you will say and how you will say it. Keep yourself calm and decide what you want the outcome to be. For example, it might be addressing an issue with a room mate where they have not done their share of the chores despite agreeing to it. You may start by reiterating the agreement you had with them and that you have noticed they aren't pulling their weight. Also tell them how this has made you feel. It may have made you feel annoyed, used, disregarded - ensure you start the sentence with "I feel ..." The goal is to resolve the issue and not cause a confrontation.

Then explain clearly what you would like to happen "I need you to empty the rubbish when the bin is full".

The other person may then apologise and explain that they understand how you feel about that and that they will set an alarm on their phone to ensure they do it in the future,

Good Job!!!

Although ... it doesn't always happen like that with some people. You may have found a good time to talk, prepared what you want to say and what you get back from the other person is a denial of the issue, your feelings and their responsibility. They might say something similar to the list below:

  • I don’t remember that at all

  • I was under stress

  • It's not as bad as that

  • It’s not worth talking about

  • It wasn’t my fault

  • It could have been worse

  • Nothing bad happened

  • I don’t know what you’re talking about

  • You are just exaggerating

  • That didn't happen

  • I'm not responsible for that

  • I didn’t do anything wrong

  • It's not a big deal

  • It was a misunderstanding

  • You’re remembering it incorrectly

What then? The conversation is now in danger of becoming a confrontation and you may feel emotion rising inside you and want to argue back. If you compose yourself and gently bring the conversation back to how you feel about the issue. You may even be met with an attack like the following examples - the clue is that the sentences begin with "You":

  • You are just whining about it

  • You regret what you did and now you’re blaming me

  • You’re just trying to make me look bad

  • You’re just trying to manipulate me

  • You’re imagining things

  • You’re just being hypersensitive about it

  • You’re acting crazy

  • You’re making it up for attention

  • You’re a liar

If the conversation continues this way - you will probably react emotionally to the attack and try to defend yourself. At this stage the other person may flip the issue around and blame you for upsetting them. They may say something like:

  • You should be apologising to me

  • You’re bullying me

  • Why are you punishing me?

  • You’re not being fair to me

  • You treated me worse than I ever treated you

  • You pushed me too far

  • You hurt my feelings when you accuse me of that

  • Why are you attacking me?

  • I’ve been nothing but good to you, why are you treating me like this?

  • I can’t believe you’re trying to make this my fault

It seems irrational doesn't it? What's going on? You did't realise that by raising a difficult issue you would upset them so much. You apologise for upsetting them and internally decide you won't raise it again. Maybe you even decide to empty the rubbish for them!

After the conversation you are confused, still angry about the original issue and feel bad for upsetting them. In fact the whole idea is to make you feel confused and to deflect responsibility away from them. There are several motivations for them doing this but the outcome is the same. You raise issues with them less and less until you don't.

For the example given above it may be a one-off situation. But if this is a pattern in your relationship, it can erode your self-worth and make you wary or even fearful of the other person which changes the dynamic.

All you can do is become more aware when this is happening and to stop apologising for something that has been created by the other person which is not your fault. Don't allow it to cause damage to you.

In more serious examples this tactic can be used by sex offenders, abusers and institutions.

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