They're not always easy, but the hardest conversations can actually strengthen your most cherished relationships. "It's a communication between two people or a group of people who have an important relationship," Oprah's Lifeclass teacher Iyanla Vanzant says. "It has to be an important relationship where some information needs to be shared, clarity needs to be gained or feelings need to be expressed."
Because it's not a hard conversation unless the relationship matters, Iyanla says many people—especially women—tend to avoid tough talks because they fear negative outcomes. It's time to let that go. Here's how to start a conversation that will advance, heal and grow your most cherished relationships in seven steps.
1. Acknowledge the fact that you need to have a hard conversation.
2. Clarify your expectations. Be clear with yourself about what your experience should be—and the intention should not be to get your point across or declare who is right. "It's not to have your toxic dump," Iyanla says. "It is to heal, grow or expand the relationship."
3. Invite the other person to have a conversation with you. "Say, 'There are some things going on I want to share with you. I'd like to have this conversation,'" Iyanla says. "If they say no, don't take it personally. Say, 'Can I check back with you in a week? When will you be ready? Because this is important.'"
4. Set the ground rules—especially if you think there's potential for upset. "Say, 'I want to share something with you. I ask you to just listen, and then if you want to respond, I'll listen,'" Iyanla says. "Let's not call names, let's not swear, throw things, whatever. No name-calling, whatever your ground rules might be."
5. You have to be willing to listen. One of the biggest mistakes Iyanla says you can make is rehearsing the conversation in your head before and bringing preconceptions with you. Instead, get on the same side of the table as the other person and just sit with them. Hear what they need to say and be willing to say what you need to.
6. Be willing to be wrong. "Be willing to be wrong about what you thought they would say, what you thought they would do, how you thought they would respond, what you thought was going on," Iyanla says.
7. Agree on the next step. "At the end of the conversation, be sure you have the next steps for how you're going to behave, what the expectation is, what the next step will be, what you're expecting," she says. "Don't just leave a conversation without clarity about 'okay, now what are we doing?'"