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By James Stewart October 21, 2019

The Art of Difficult Conversations

I have something to confess: I’m not too good at having difficult conversations. I never actually came out to my brother; I let my parents tell him and waited for him to approach me about it. When I was first truly struggling with my mental health, instead of reaching out to my friends for support, I would post disturbing and ominous pictures on my private Instagram page that only they followed, and wait for them to reach out to me. And the thing is, I’m not alone. 

Lately, I’ve been thinking about techniques in social situations, about the way we use them to navigate conversation and interaction with other people, and particularly about the ways we struggle to discuss serious topics. To most of us, many social techniques are second nature. We introduce ourselves to someone like so, we inquire about certain shared topics like so. Although for certain people even these basic small interactions can be scary and confusing, for the most part, these are areas of familiarity in which our brains slide through techniques on autopilot. As I’ve found, the trouble arises when we need to have rarer, more tough conversations. How to come out to someone. How to tell someone they’ve hurt you. How to explain to someone that you’re suicidal. Repetition is what molds technique into its final form, and with the lack of experience comes the lack of knowledge of how to proceed.

When we think “technique”, we often think science, math, step-by-step instructions. A “technical” CEGEP program is thought to be one that will give you concrete skills to apply in the workforce. However, we know that technique means more than that. A technique is any form of how-to knowledge, and so it comes into play during every conversation and social interaction we have.

Nowadays, we have the internet, which makes things a little different. I once saw a meme that said “no matter what you’re going through, just remember there was someone on yahoo answers going through the exact same thing in 2011.”  We can google “how to come out” or “how to break up with someone” a million times, but none of that research makes up the real thing. We won’t know which technique works for us until we’re in the process of trying to apply it ourselves. Human interaction is different from many scientific disciplines in that the variables will be different every time; every human being is different, and so are their reactions and responses to what you say.

If I can be so bold, I think that this process of social technique creation a big part of what living and the human experience is about: we find techniques to navigate the world and the people around us, and then we have new experiences and have to remake these techniques all over again. That’s the thing about a technique—it is a process that works, for a time, but inevitably someone will find a better or more thorough one. It is a continual process of learning and adapting to interact with the world and people around us, and the momentary comfort that for now, this works.

About the author

James is a 2nd year student in Liberal Arts.

Comments

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    darcyburnett

    January 27, 2020

    This article reminded me of my experience in difficult conversation. One year ago I got a job as a coach. I would be teaching classes of toddlers the basics of a variety of sports every weekend. It was great except I had never worked with kids. The difficult conversations here mostly revolve around children not wanting to kick a ball or run around cones, but parents expect a coach who can engage their kids and I want the kids to have fun. I quickly adapted, learning techniques on how to speak the language of a three year old. The same way that you say we learn how to navigate difficult conversations through experience, I learned to talk to children properly, and every weekend when I go to work there is a new problem, the unpredictable nature of human interaction gives way to opportunities to learn and implement a new techniques.

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    Callista

    January 27, 2020

    I related to the author when they said “Lately, I’ve been thinking about techniques in social situations, about the way we use them to navigate conversation and interaction with other people, and particularly about the ways we struggle to discuss serious topics.” Speaking to another seems so easy. Whether it’s a friend, a family member, or even a stranger, it’s never easy to confess something personal to you. They’ve made me realize how it’s normal to feel vulnerable when talking about your feelings. It’s only with time and practice that I will be more comfortable with myself at the end of the day.

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    Isabela_r

    January 27, 2020

    I like how you used relatable examples, such as googling “how to” stuff. It really brought a light example to something so serious and heavy as social anxiety. I also like how you used a personal story to introduce the issue. Putting the reader at ease on the subject, making it realize that everyone has harsh stories or difficulties and that it is completely okay to talk about it, breaking the stigma on social issues.

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    Stepahanie

    January 27, 2020

    Honestly I totally understand how you feel. I have a difficult time to talk to people in general. It’s hard to bring yourself to say something very important and serious. Even I have a hard time to talk to people I’m not familiar with like employees in stores, customer service on the phone   and strangers. There were times I ended up googling what to do when I’m in social situations. The best website is Wikihow jk. Sometimes I even lied to my parents that I “asked” the employee where to find the object in which aisle. But eventually, as I grow as an adult, I have to be more brave.

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    Melissa O

    January 27, 2020

    This was a very interesting article to read because it made me realize that something we do with ease on an every day basis can also be extremely difficult. This article reminded me how hard it could be at times to say a certain thing or ask someone a certain question. It was also very relatable, I know that feeling inside when you feel like all your words are stuck and you can’t make up the courage to tell another person. This struggle we face makes me bottle up my thoughts and feelings inside but this piece of writing reminded me that sometimes we need to try new techniques! Come up with new ways to approach different, difficult situations. Sometimes it’s all about fresh starts. It was great !

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    Nicholas Styres

    January 27, 2020

    This is a relatable article due to the fact that I have trouble talking to people as well. The way you come off on someone will obviously effect how the other person will perceive it. To finding the right words to say, how your tone is and definitely who your speaking to can affect your very being. Reminding me of a time where I couldn’t find the words I wanted to say to the person that I was into because of the way they were looking at me, it though me off so I came off as a goof.

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    Yana Chichova

    January 27, 2020

    ‘We won’t know which technique works for us until we’re in the process of trying to apply it ourselves. Human interaction is different from many scientific disciplines in that the variables will be different every time’. I had never really thought about the fact that, in the case of human experience|interaction, we have to experience whatever there is to experience in order to know if it works or not since no two situations can be exactly the same and depend on an amazing amount of circumstances. Because of all these circumstances, the outcomes are also multiplied and you never know what you’re gonna end up with. What I’m trying to say is that, looking at things that way, I definitely understand why one would be scared of conversations, them being something that we can never truly control and never really know what they could lead to.

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    maria_bocearov

    January 27, 2020

    This text enlightened me on techniques in social situations especially difficult topics. We might get caught up in our busy lives and look at people from a point of view that is under informed and ignorant, seeing only one side of the story. We might belittle the difficulty some people can encounter in social interactions, in expressing their feelings and communicating they’re emotions and needs. Your writing opened up my eyes and enriched my outlook on the struggle some people go through in order to convey they’re taughts and how technique is everything.

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    Vanessa DiPietrantonio

    January 27, 2020

    I think that you made many good points on people’s misconceptions on “technique” - how we typically think of skills that we can use at school or at work. We often overlook the struggles with social relationships even though many people feel this way. I think that your piece has impacted me so much because I relate to your social anxieties and your difficulties in uncomfortable social situations as well. I also thought that your piece was inspiring and motivating for people like me to conquer these anxieties and develop techniques to navigate our way through life to overcome these obstacles.

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    EmmaGrace Arcadi

    January 27, 2020

    I can certainly relate to the author of this article due to the fact that I also had trouble talking to people and engaging in conversation in the past. When I first started high school, I was indirectly forced to talk to more and more people, but it was still kept to quite a minimum. It was only when I started college, that I was truly pushed to communicate and speak to people whom I didn’t know. Taking public transportation really pushed me and gave me the opportunity to learn communication techniques. In the end, I really admired this article because of how much I related to it. I really appreciated the way the author related techniques of social situations with their own life.

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    Jacob B

    January 27, 2020

    I feel like each and everyone of us can relate to this article. seeking help is an incredibly hard thing to do. it exposes our weaknesses to others and makes us vulnerable to criticism we do not want to hear. the techniques we learn are indeed to be worked on. our communicating skills are techniques we continuously change and seek to improve. I really liked the example of searching up solutions on google. we all try to fix our problems using the internet but can never seem to find a remedy.

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    CCG

    January 27, 2020

    I agree with the ‘ongoing’ aspect of technique in this reflection. As we get to know people better, we definitely do not interact with them the same way as when they were strangers. We grow more comfortable and it can become a bit easier to open up and discuss more difficult topics and situations with them. The technique we use to tackle these situations changes as relationships evolve. I also liked the reference to the fact that human interaction is not an exact science. This part of the reflection reminded me of how often I replay social interactions in my mind and imagine better outcomes had I responded differently.

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    cassandra costanza

    January 29, 2020

    as humans we are constantly changing, adapting and learning new things. everyone experiences things differently which means that everyone has different techniques for dealing with things. I especially relate to this article because i’ve never been the type of person who opens up to people. Only now, in my 20 years of being alive, have i changed my way of thinking and realized that communication can help solve many problems. Although it isn’t always the easiest thing to do, having that weight lifted off your shoulders after doing so is remarkable.

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    Polina Stus

    January 30, 2020

    What I liked about the article is how the author reveals the broad use of “technique.” Because the author talks about the story from his personal life, it makes me feel relatable to such a problem as having difficulties when to talk about something that makes you vulnerable. And the Yahoo example made the article even more relatable and helped me better understand the meaning of “technique” and how it could be used.

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    mikaela.andreadakis

    February 3, 2020

    Conveying one’s feelings seems like a relatively easy task… until we have to do it. We somehow have to manage to take all these thoughts in our heads and feelings in our hearts, make some noises with our mouths and hope that the other person can understand the complexity that is our emotions. I really appreciated this piece because it made me feel less alone—it made me feel seen. It’s comforting to be reminded that when faced with difficult conversations, I’m not the only one that gets sweaty palms and the sudden urge to run away and start up a new life in a land where nobody knows me. But just like James, the author of this piece, explains, having the hard conversations, like any technique, must be repetitiously practiced in order for us to become more apt at sharing and connecting with others and the world around us.

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