Two people sitting with their hands crossed

Spending time with family can be as stressful as it is enjoyable, especially in times like these. That’s why it’s important to remember that we can love our family and disagree with them at the same time. This type of conflict is normal and doesn't necessarily need to be resolved.

With that being said, it's important that we communicate our thoughts and views with respect and be willing to consider what the other person has to say. Here are some tips to help you get through a tough conversation.

Starting a tough conversation

Plan ahead
Sometimes you may be the one to start a tough conversation with someone else. When this is the case, preparing for the conversation in advance can be helpful. Planning ahead assures you are able to share your views and hear your family’s perspective more effectively. Take a few minutes to consider these questions:

  • What do you hope to accomplish from this conversation?
  • What would be an ideal outcome?
  • How might this conversation affect your relationship?
  • How will you know when it’s time to take a break?
  • What assumptions are you making about how your family will respond or feel?

Before going into a potentially stressful conversation, it’s important to check-in with ourselves about what we’re expecting and what might realistically happen, so we can prepare emotionally.

If you’re not the one to initiate the conversation, it can be helpful to ask for time to pull your thoughts together before engaging with the other person. Make a plan and pick a time when you both can talk. This will help you feel more prepared, and the conversation won’t catch you off guard.

Working through a tough conversation

Pick a quiet time
It may be difficult to start a tough conversation. Choosing a quiet area to talk, finding a time that works for all parties, explaining why you want to have this conversation and sharing what you hope will come of it can all make for a better interaction.

De-escalate or take a break
When we have tough conversations, they can become heated or escalate more than we might have expected. When this happens, it may even lead you to say something that you regret. In these situations, de-escalating is an important tool to bring everyone back to the facts. Reiterate why this conversation is important and that you value the other person.

If the volume ticks up, use your own voice to bring it back down; if you find yourself getting frustrated, take a moment and breathe before speaking again. If need be, ask to take a break and return to the conversation after everyone has time to cool off. Perhaps everyone needs to take a short walk, have a snack or get a good night’s sleep.

Moving forward

Reflect and follow up if needed
While it would be nice, change doesn’t happen overnight. Conversations don’t always resolve the way we’d like, and more often than not, seeing progress requires a series of conversations and a willingness to keep trying. If things feel like they’re unresolved, let the person know that you appreciate their time and you’d like to follow up with them in the future. Give them some time and space before engaging again. If things are resolved more quickly, share your appreciation and gratitude with the other person and let them know you value their help and input.


 Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) offers individual and drop-in counseling appointments virtually using telehealth. Call 303-492-2277 to make an appointment. CAPS counselors can help provide insight, solutions and information about additional resources. Students commonly visit with concerns about stress, sadness, worry, relationships, academic performance, family problems and financial struggles.

​ Conflict Resolution has a variety of resources for students who are looking to improve their skills around conflict. Students can take a quiz to find out their conflict style and how it may affect them. You can also enroll in virtual conflict coaching to get more insight into your specific situation. For more information on Conflict Resolution workshops, contact or call 303-492-5550.

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