Why are difficult conversations important?
Why are difficult conversations important?
Why is it important to have difficult conversations? What are the consequences of avoiding difficult conversations? The short answer is: avoiding uncomfortable conversations aren’t good for anyone’s health. Funny that! Now read on.
Now here are some sobering stats. Over 95% of the world’s population has health problems. One-third of us have more than five illnesses, and 15% of us live with some form of disability. Even though most of us are walking around with some kind of health problem, we don’t talk about them, which is actually harmful to our health.
Avoiding having difficult conversations about health and disability issues, or any other difficult topic, especially at work, is something many of us do. We often feel ashamed of being ill. Social exclusion and social stigma is real for people living with chronic illness or disability. And that’s on us.
And so here we are: uncomfortable and silent, avoiding having difficult conversations that come with being disabled or chronically ill. But we have to have them.
Why? Because 95% of us are going through some kind of health issue. And if it’s not you, it’s probably a friend or loved one.
To get you started with having a difficult conversation, we’ve come up with a list of three reasons why awkward and tough conversations are a good idea.
Three benefits of having difficult conversations
#1. There are huge health benefits to expressing yourself
Being able to express yourself is an important part of your own mental and physical health. If you’ve been avoiding – or maybe even dreading – having difficult conversations, you may be holding onto what’s known as internal stress. This is when external issues cause you to overanalyze and essentially worry excessively about something.
By keeping these emotions bottled up, this stress can then manifest itself as physical tension, resulting in migraines, sleeplessness, and even high blood pressure. If you suffer from a chronic illness, additional stress can sometimes aggravate existing conditions – which we don’t want!
In striking up that long overdue difficult conversation, you’ll be able to release this nervous energy and maybe expel the stress you’ve been internalizing. And even if the conversation doesn’t go exactly to plan…
#2. Talking can help generate new ideas
Have you ever wondered why you can often have some of your brightest ideas midway through a sentence? It’s almost as if, in verbalizing your thoughts, you’ve gained access to this wonderful new place where eureka moments are born.
There have been various studies into why this happens; some believe that in the process of talking, our internal monologue is forced to slow down, allowing us to process information in a more mindful, considered way.
In getting the information out of our heads and into the world, we’re given the opportunity to organize our thoughts into logical sentences and achieve a deeper level of understanding about what we’re thinking or feeling.
So even if your fellow interlocutor isn’t up to much, you may find that having difficult conversations helps you to discover some new realizations about the awkward topic in question.
Which leads us to our final amazing fact about the benefits of having difficult conversations…
#3. Defining the “difficult” in the difficult conversation helps reduce it
Surely this sounds a little counterintuitive; engage in a difficult conversation and all of a sudden, it’ll be less difficult?!
Well no, not quite like that. However, a fascinating study at UCLA showed that being able to externalize and even simply label one’s emotions can actually minimize their intensity.
The evidence suggests that in using language to define our experiences, we suppress the amygdala (our fight-or-flight response system that produces extreme reactions when exposed to “threats”) and instead start engaging the prefrontal cortex (the clever bit that deals with logic, problem-solving and rational thought).
These findings might explain why, in times of great frustration or anger, our immediate response is the need to tell a friend exactly what happened. In labeling our emotions within a social setting, we’re able to place them within in the context of a conversation, instead of leaving them to stew in our heads (i.e. moving them into an external sphere, as opposed to keeping them in an internal one).
Verbalizing your thoughts and feelings, no matter how difficult, is a hugely important part of sustaining a healthy and happy brain, and the more difficult conversations you have, the better you’ll get at them. We’ve even created a glossary of awkward, cause we need a whole new dictionary of terms to describe the emotions we feel when having difficult conversations (especially when talking about cancer).
Got any tips on how to stop avoiding having difficult conversations?
Has your most recent difficult conversation helped you in ways you could never have imagined?
Then feel free to post a comment and share with us – we’d love to hear your thoughts and stories about the benefits of having a difficult conversation.
UR is on a mission to change the way we talk about sensitive health topics, one awkward blogpost at a time. Posts by this author are from the Editors at UR.