4 Ways to Recover From a Difficult Conversation

4 min read

There is an old saying that goes, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” However, we all know that words can hurt, especially when they come from someone we know and respect. When things are the bleakest is often when we turn to others for help, but what happens when they say things that aren’t so helpful? Their words both can sting and leave a mark. And how you recover from difficult conversations is important and can ultimately change the trajectory of your relationships, both personally and professionally.

Here are four ways to recover from a difficult conversation:

1. Gain perspective with time. Although this is stressful, there is wisdom in separating yourself from the speaker. As painful as it may be, time can be your ally. When negative emotions are in play, wanting a quick resolution seems easiest; however, it may not always be best. Beyond the clock is often where the spinning stops. Both your mind and body can slow their pace. In these moments, you can gain clarity with a calmer mind. And options and opportunities may present themselves in a new way.

2. Think about and write out the actual words which were spoken. While feeling anger and through tears, it can be difficult to separate your emotions from what is being said. You may be so upset or disappointed because you’re not receiving the support you crave that you’re missing their words. If you had a transcript of what was actually said and read it without listening to their voice, what would you see? Would their words ring true? Sometimes, there is an element of the truth within their message that hurts because the subject matter has triggered one of your fears. For example, if they are speaking about an investment and one of your fears is losing money, this fear can become intertwined with their message and overshadow their advice.

Soon after the conversation occurs, write out the words you recall being spoken from both sides. This can help you see the spoken word. If you can’t recall their words, just know that sometimes we stop listening because our fears overwhelm us. If this happens or even if it doesn’t, writing out your thoughts about the conversation can also help. This exercise can help you see how you are relating to their words and to them.

3. Remember, relationships matter. Relationships matter and knowing how to recover from a difficult conversation is critical to preserving your sanity and overall wellbeing. While you may not be able to overlook the fact that they deeply disappointed you, ending the relationship may not be an option, particularly if you work with them or are connected with them in another way. You know your paths will continue to cross and beneath their words lies another tie, rather it be personal or professional. Keep in mind their aim may not have been to hurt you, although their words did. While you may want to say “farewell,” keep in mind that what you can control is how you engage with them. Personally, I know after a friend said something to me in a fierce way, it made me listen and observe them in a new light. The result is that I saw my own vulnerability in a different way, and I knew what kind of person I wanted to become.

4. Become mindful of how and with whom you share your story. Each time you tell your story, the words will reverberate in a new and different way depending on who is listening and you can’t predict how it will land. Simply describing the experience can trigger difficult emotions and feeling safe in doing so is essential.

For example, a widow who told part of her story in my book, returned to work after the unexpected death of her husband, only to be met with indifference when she spoke about how his suicide was related to his clinical depression. This made her grief more intense and increased her sense of loneliness. Sometimes, it is best to share it only with a few trusted people, and one of those individuals may be your therapist.

To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

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