Here are a few more practical tips for optimizing your chances of success from a difficult discussion on a charged topic:

First: focus on having a realistic goal for the discussion.  

  • Nothing too ambitious or excessively modest.
  • Be able to state it in one simple sentence.

Right way: “I want to tell my son he can’t take the car to college next semester.”

Not so right way: “I want to let him know I care about his safety, and therefore I don’t think he should take the car to college. Unless he can give me a really good reason why he’ll need it, and couldn’t make do with public transportation the way I’m sure other students do.”

Second: Ask yourself what arguments or objections you might hear from the other person.

  • In their own words, please. As close as possible. You’ve probably heard them before.
  • Come up with a reasonable response to each. In advance.

Right way: “She’s going to say: ‘You’re just trying to control me.”

Not so right way: “She’ll blame us for all her problems, like she always has.”

Third:  Rehearse your responses in advance.  

  • Avoid accusations, threats, self-pity, bringing up old resentments, etc.
  • Instead, strive to be Use logic to explain your position.

Right way: “We looked and there’s just no way we can afford it.”

Not so right way: “You said last time you’d pay us back and you didn’t so it just shows we can’t trust what you say.”

Fourth: Have a fallback position, just in case.

  • Think of some lesser move that nonetheless brings you closer to your goal.
  • Possibly a conditional agreement: if X happens, you agree to do Y.

Right way: “Suppose you do this your way and for whatever reason, it doesn’t work out. Would you agree to reconsider then?”

Not the right way at all: “That’s it, I’m tired of arguing. But don’t come crying to me when you fail.”

Nothing’s foolproof in such situations, of course. But you may be surprised at what you’re able to accomplish.

This post belongs to Tips for Difficult Discussions