In Praise of Awkward Conversations

Andrew Bunt 8 months ago
Blog 3 mins
Found in: Family & Friends

In marriage, communication is key. I know that, and I’m not even married. It’s one of those bits of life advice that is so widely shared, you just pick it up as you go through life. It’s good advice, I’m sure.

But what always confuses me is why this principle tends to only get applied to marriage. If communication is so key in marriage, why is it not also key in other types of relationships? Why do we not also talk about communication being key in friendship? Is communication really not important to me as a single person?

In my experience, communication is key to deep, meaningful friendship. And in a strange way, I’ve come to actually value having awkward conversations with my friends because, as uncomfortable as they can be, they deepen our connection and strengthen our relationship.

In my experience, communication is key to deep, meaningful friendship.

In recent months, I’ve had awkward conversations with my closest friends about the place of physical touch in our friendship, emotional dependency, and the frequency with which we do or don’t have contact. Each has felt fairly uncomfortable at first, but each has been significant for the relationship.

I’m definitely not an expert at these conversations; my friends and I don’t have them as much as we probably should. But there are a few things I think I’ve learnt from those we have had. These are my top tips for having (worthwhile!) awkward conversations with your close friends.

Introduce it carefully

Often the hardest thing about having awkward conversations is starting them. We know we ought to talk about something, but the hardest thing is bringing the subject up and starting the conversation.

One helpful tool is just to acknowledge that it’s awkward. ‘Can we have an awkward conversation?’ is sometimes what I’ll say. In a funny way, it puts everyone at ease; it acknowledges the elephant in the room before it’s even entered. But it’s also intentional; everyone knows that this is going to be an important conversation.

If I know I’m going to find something difficult to bring up, sometimes I’ll text my friends in advance of seeing them to tell them there’s something I want to talk about. I may or may not say what it is, but just doing that makes it a lot easier to bring it up when we are together and makes it a lot harder to chicken out of the conversation.

To have worthwhile awkward conversations, you’ve got to actually have them, and that means finding ways to start them.

Take responsibility for your own emotions

Often, the problems we face in our friendships are rooted in our own issues. We all carry hurts, pains and insecurities from things we have faced in life. When we start to get close to people in friendship, it is almost inevitable that there will be times when elements of the relationship start to hit on some of the things we’re carrying. What that can mean is we end up having emotional reactions that are out of proportion to what’s happening. The risk then is that we bring them up with our friends in a manner which is quite accusatory even though they may not be doing anything wrong, or at least what they’re doing may not be as bad as our reaction would suggest. That conversation is likely to create confusion and misunderstanding and lead to pain and anger. It’s not the kind of conversation we want to have.

That’s why it’s important that we get to know ourselves and our hurts and insecurities. We need to learn to understand why certain things in friendships affect us the way they do and be honest about that with ourselves and with our friends. We’ve got to take responsibility for our emotions.

Often when I’m having awkward conversations with my friends I’m saying something like, ‘I know this is rooted in the insecurities I carry. This is my issue, not yours, but I think it will help us if we know this is going on.’ At other times, I choose to wait until I’ve dealt with the insecurities something is aggravating, so I am in a better place to be fair to my friends when we do talk about it.

Awkward conversations are worth having, but to have them well, we have to take responsibility for our own emotions.

Come to the conversation to listen and learn

It’s easy to come to awkward conversations with our own agenda – we want something to change, or we want an apology, or suchlike. Those may not be wrong things to be looking for, but we should also always be looking to listen and learn.

As much as we might think we understand what’s going on or what’s happened, often we don’t fully. We come to one conclusion that gets stuck in our mind and we then can’t see any other possible perspectives or explanations. But in reality, there’s often more going on. Maybe you interpreted something one way, but the intention was very different. Maybe you feel their actions have been very hurtful, when actually their desire was to be helpful. We need to listen well so we can spot where there have been misunderstandings.

It’s important to have awkward conversations, but they need to be conversations, not just a series of accusations. That requires a willingness to listen and to learn.

I highly recommend having awkward conversations with your friends. They’re difficult and uncomfortable, but, in my experience, they’re vital in a close friendship.