What are the benefits of having difficult conversations?

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Illustration on the positive benefits of having difficult conversations. A talking woman is in the middle of the illustration radiating positivity. Sitting opposite her are two people actively listening.

“Verbalizing your thoughts and feelings, no matter how difficult, is a hugely important part of sustaining a healthy and happy brain. The more difficult conversations you have, the better you’ll get at them.” | Photo credit: ©Yulong Lli / Behance Creative Commons

What are the benefits of having difficult conversations?

Why is it important to have difficult conversations? What are the consequences of avoiding difficult conversations? What are the benefits of having difficult conversations? The short answer is, avoiding uncomfortable, difficult conversations isn’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 are real for people living with chronic illness or disability. And that’s on us.

And here we are: uncomfortable and silent, avoiding awkward 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. There are consequences of avoiding difficult conversations for you and the person you want to need to have that conversation with.

To get you started with having a difficult conversation, we’ve come up with a list of three reasons that highlight the clear benefits of having difficult conversations.

"In the realm of career and personal growth, the benefits of having difficult conversations cannot be overstated. These courageous dialogues lead to breakthroughs, innovative solutions, and a deeper sense of self-awareness."

Three benefits of having difficult conversations

#1. There are health benefits to expressing yourself in a difficult conversation

Being able to express yourself is an important part of your own mental and physical health. There are consequences of avoiding difficult conversations. 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 bottling these emotions, this stress can manifest 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. This is just one of the reasons why embracing difficult conversations can be a good idea. And even if the conversation doesn’t go exactly to plan…

#2. Talking through difficult issues 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 discover new realizations about the awkward topic in question. This is why difficult conversations are good for generating new and fresh perspectives on a difficult topic.

This leads us to our final amazing fact about the benefits of having difficult conversations…

"The benefits of having difficult conversations are the doors they open to growth and understanding. Embrace the discomfort and watch your relationships and personal development flourish."

#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 label one’s emotions can 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 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 the conversation, is a hugely important part of sustaining a healthy and happy brain. 

The more difficult conversations you have, the better you’ll get at them. We’ve even created a funny cancer cartoon book, The 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.

"Remember, the benefits of having difficult conversations extend beyond temporary discomfort. They pave the way for authentic connections, enhanced problem-solving, and personal empowerment. Embrace the challenge and unlock your true potential."

Article by
Brendan McDonald

Brendan McDonald, the author of "What are the benefits of having difficult conversations?" is a former humanitarian aid worker, has ventured into challenging territories such as Kosovo, North Korea, Sri Lanka, Libya, Jordan, and Iraq. He has gained extensive experience in information management, staff wellness, and communications. In early 2014, after dedicating a year to the Syria Crisis, he was diagnosed with clinical depression. Brendan lives with several medical conditions, including chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), peripheral neuropathy, and bicuspid aortic valve disease (BAVD)