Speak Eagle

How do Tough Conversations Make You Feel?

I have always been terrified of tough conversations. Well, I say ALWAYS, but honestly, I don’t think any of us are terrified of tough conversations as kids, because we don’t yet know what a “tough conversation” is. Which is why my kids can very confidently announce to a sibling, “I’m not inviting you to my birthday party,” and matter-of-factly tell the cashier at Target, “You’re really old. I think you’re going to die soon.”

But as we grow, we become distinctly aware that certain pieces of sensitive information can elicit an extremely strong reaction from another person, such as the silent treatment, rage, and even outright rejection. And so, some of us learn to protect ourselves from those responses by never gracing the doorstep of a tough conversation again. We become COMPULSIVE AVOIDERS. turtle-1388276633B63A lot like this turtle.

Not everyone becomes a turtle.  Some people actually like tough conversations- as if they were participating in an exciting sporting event.  Maybe like boxing?  I don’t know.  I’m not one of those people.  And I’ve never understood the magnetic pull of the UFC.

So…when a conference organizer asked if I would speak on the topic of “How to Have a Courageous Conversation,” I wanted to laugh. But I didn’t. I put on my best professional face and said, “Of course. That’s a wonderful topic and I believe I could offer deep wisdom to the participants on how to navigate such conversations.”

And then I laughed all the way home- one of those laughs that crosses over very quickly into crying- and praying, “Dear Lord, what have I done?”

How in the world can I teach people something that terrifies me?

LibraryWell, first, I decided to let my fear fuel my research. I would find out everything every other communication expert and wise sage had to say, not just so my audience would learn something, but so I would learn something- and maybe even apply it.

And second, I decided to be honest about my fear. If I get weak in the knees anticipating tough conversations, chances are other people are afraid of them, too.

The conference went well and I thought that was the end of it. But it wasn’t.

After the last session, a woman approached me and handed me her business card. She said, “Give me a call when you get a chance,” and walked away. I looked at the card. She was the senior acquisitions editor of a publishing company. My heart jumped into my throat. Or my throat jumped into my heart. In any case, I nearly passed out.

KleenexI called her a few days later. She asked, “Would you be interested in writing a book about what you taught us at the conference- you know, how to have courageous conversations?” And, I promptly put on my best professional voice and said, “Of course. That’s a wonderful topic and I believe I could offer deep wisdom to readers on how to navigate such conversations.”

Which brings me to today- writing a book about how to have courageous conversations. I’m loving it because of all I’m learning, but still not enjoying the opportunities that come along to put it into practice. Like a few days ago when I had to tell a very professional colleague that he needed to blow his nose. Even though it was just a courageous “directive,” not really a conversation, it still was not fun. At all.

One of the things that I know will make this book funny and inspiring and engaging is STORIES. But not just my stories- YOUR STORIES, too. I’ll bet you have some great stories- and advice- from your own good and bad experiences with tough conversations.  And I’m hoping you’ll share them with me so I can include them in this book.

For example, I talked to a grown man the other day who said he was uber-confident to have a courageous conversation with a peer, but a tough conversation with his mother terrified him.  Investigating more deeply into stories around that kind of stuff is what will make this book interesting.

With that said, over the next number of months, I will occasionally post a blog telling you what I’m writing and ask you a question about your experiences. If you have any comments or advice or stories from your own life that relate to the topic, please reply on my blog on or Facebook, or feel free to write to me privately at heidi@drheidipetak.com.

(Also, please let me know if I can use your real first name or if you want me to come up with a fantastic fictitious name for you, like Beatricia or Beauregard.)

So, here’s what I want to know this week: When you think about initiating a tough conversation with someone, how does it make you feel? And why do you think you feel that way?Homepage4


Thanks, in advance, for helping me!


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5 thoughts on “How do Tough Conversations Make You Feel?”

  1. Pingback: 7 Steps to Handle the Tension of Inauguration WeekendDr. Heidi Petak

  2. Great article Heidi!
    Here’s how I feel when I have to initiate a tough conversation. When I think about it, I get a sharp burning pain in my stomach. The closer the relationship, the greater the pain. Here’s why. I value relationship. My personality is one of wanting to encourage and build others up. On an emotional level, the tough conversation will hurt the other person, possibly damaging the relationship, and therefore, smacks against my encouraging/build others up personality. On the intellectual level, I know that the tough conversation is what the other person needs to grow regardless of what it does to our relationship. Wisdom stops by for a coffee and is able to strike a balance between the emotion and intellect. Well, at least some of the time…

    1. Yes, you’ve painted the tension quite nicely here, Jeff. Thanks! The picture of “wisdom stopping by for coffee and striking a balance…” is excellent. I know that these tough conversations are also a way that God teaches me to be dependent on Him when I feel that pain in my stomach. Funny how we can walk in thinking we will help someone else change- and then God changes us in the process. Thanks for sharing!

  3. It feels a little like going through the stages of grief for me…
    Denial: things haven’t been that weird between us right? I mean, something is off but it’ll work itself out.
    Anger: why am I always the one to have to bring this up? I don’t want to be a mature adult!
    Bargaining: maybe I’ll send her a text…. Okay an email. FINE! I’ll call her because I seriously can’t look her in the face and be this honest.
    Depression: don’t think I’ve ever dreaded sitting at Starbucks with a friend this much.
    Acceptance: I’ll be bawling my eyes out and feeling like I’m gonna DIE the entire time but maybe afterwards I’ll reward myself with a smores frappaccino.

    1. I’m with you, girl!!! You are so right about the stages of grief, though I had never thought about it that way. I especially like the “rewarding yourself” part at the end 🙂

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