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Whether you need to apologise to someone, or to confront them about a negative situation, having a difficult conversation can be nerve-wracking and scary. Here are some tips for making difficult conversations a little easier.

This can help if:

  • you need to apologise to someone
  • you don’t know the best way to express yourself in a difficult situation
  • you find it hard to get stuff off your chest.
Girl talking to her upet boyfriend

How to have a difficult conversation

One of the most effective ways of communicating is to use whole messages. This is particularly useful when you need to raise an issue that is difficult to talk about or that makes you feel uncomfortable. A whole message involves expressing how you think and feel, while at the same time stating what you want. It consists of four parts:

1. Observations. What happened. In your description, stick to the facts. (For example: ‘The other day when Mike came over, you didn't talk to him.’)

2. Thoughts. Your interpretation of what happened. (For example: ‘I thought it looked rude – as though you don't like him.’)

3. Feelings. How you feel about the situation. (For example: ‘I felt embarrassed and uncomfortable.’)

4. Wants. What you would like to happen in the situation. (For example: ‘The next time Mike comes over, I'd like you to say “hi” and to make an effort to talk to him.’)

How to say ‘sorry’

Apologising can be awkward and difficult. Depending on why you want to apologise, you might have some hesitation. Here are some tips for saying ‘sorry’ effectively.

  • Spell out why you want to apologise. It might sound obvious, but the first part of apologising is to clearly state what you have done before saying you’re sorry for it. It might be helpful to rehearse exactly what you are going to say before you apologise.
  • Show that you’re sorry. Showing that you regret what you have done is an important part of apologising. If possible, think about how you can fix the problem and make things right. For example, if you lost or broke something that belonged to someone else, you could replace it. However, some things can’t be fixed, such as when you’ve said something hurtful to a friend. In this instance, the best thing to do is to make sure it doesn’t happen again, and show the ways that you care in your actions.
  • Acknowledge the other person’s feelings. A good apology involves describing how your actions have impacted the other person. For example, you might say: ‘I understand you must have felt really upset, angry and confused when I didn’t invite you to my party.’ This shows the other person that you’re on the same page as them and understand why they feel hurt.
  • Ask for forgiveness. Ask for forgiveness by saying, ‘I know it will take time, but I really hope we can be friends again’ or even by asking, ‘Is there anything I can do to make this right?’ This lets the other person know that the relationship is really important to you.

What can I do now?

  • Rehearse what you’re going to say before you have your difficult conversation. If you want to say ‘sorry’, but you feel too anxious, you might think about putting your apology in writing.
  • After you’ve apologised, give the other person some time to think about what you have said, then check in with them later to see how they are feeling.
  • Head to the ReachOut Forums for more advice and tips.