Taking on the Difficult Subjects

My friend Mykl Roventine passed on a link to author Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project site and her “11 tips for broaching difficult subjects” post. Ya know there’s nothing like a list to provide fodder for discussion…and this one has a few interesting points.

Most on the list are great tips, but there are some that I would, let’s say, modify. So here is the abbreviated list (in bold) with those modifications where needed:

  1. Don’t stall. Oh yeah, get it taken care of quick, but…
  2. Don’t start off angry. Sometimes tough, but can be easier with #3, #4, and #5.
  3. Pick your moment. Think of how the timing will impact you and the one you are talking to.
  4. Think about why the subject is important to you. Helps determine #5.
  5. Are you certain you need to discuss the difficult subject? This is probably the best one.
  6. Don’t ruminate about worse-case scenarios. A friend of mine calls this “writing the script”, avoid it.
  7. What’s the worse that can happen? Okay, now wait a minute, I thought we weren’t suppose to do this (as Rubin points out.)? A combination of #5 and #6 is really what she’s going after here. So let’s make this “10 tips…”

  1. Can it wait? Isn’t this a consideration for #3? Okay, make that “9 tips…”
  2. Use notes. Very helpful in some situations but not all.
    Consider your connection with the one with which you have a conflict.
    If it’s a friend you’ll surely have to face the “Dude, we’re friends
    and you’re using notes?” question. This could give you one more
    “difficult subject” to address. You might consider rehearsing the
    conversation with notes and then go from memory.
  3. Write a note instead of having a conversation. Hold on
    there, here’s where I hop off this tips train. This is not always the
    best idea…especially if you’re not a writer. As I pointed out in a post
    awhile back, writing is not always the best way to really express your
    true feelings, your attitude, and your point of view. For those like
    Ms. Rubin, who appears to be an accomplished writer, their skills allow
    them the ability to craft a written message that can adequately express
    everything needed to address and hopefully diffuse this “difficult
    subject.” For many of us this means using e-mail to communicate and I
    continue to point out, not a great vehicle for expressing emotion.Consider
    a letter that follows the face to face meeting. If this is a work
    environment, it
    emphasizes your point, avoids confusion and can be a
    great CYA record of the conversation. There are corporations that even
    frown on written “evidence” completely. Sometimes, they fear, this only
    provides fuel for potential or even actual litigation. In the case of
    addressing a friend, you’ll most likely get the “Dude, we’re friends.
    Why couldn’t we deal with this in person?” A follow up letter or e-mail
    can help reinforce your sincerity. In short, difficult situations are
    best dealt with in person.
  4. Get plenty of sleep and exercise. This is great advice for
    anyone, anytime. Heck you might even have avoided the difficult
    situation if hadn’t been up to all hours watching infomercials…though
    that Little Giant Ladder is pretty sweet.

Again, this is a good list of 9 (two modified) Tips and worth your consideration.


  1. Thanks for the shout-out Phil. I’ve been a fan of Gretchen’s blog for some time. She always leaves me with lots to think about. I like your additions/modifications to her list. Especially your point about notes vs. conversations. Well done.