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Four ways to have hard conversations with your friends – without making things worse

It’s painful to watch someone you care about make what you perceive as bad life choices – we all want what’s best for our loved ones. This can be particularly hard when they are dating someone you don’t think is good, or right for them.

Swifties (fans of Taylor Swift) have experienced this recently when Taylor Swift was reported to be dating famed bad boy and “problematic” favourite Matt Healy from the band The 1975. Some fans form parasocial relationships with famous figures like Swift – this is where they feel like they have a close personal relationship with a celebrity and feel invested in them, while the celebrity has no idea who they are.

Taylor Swift’s actions are visible for public dissection and become fodder for viral social media content. As this new relationship dominated social media timelines, many of her fans found themselves wishing she would make a different choice.

Swifties called for her to end the relationship. For them, it was simple – Healy was no good for her. Swift seems to have listened as the pair are reported to have parted ways. But it’s not so easy to tell your real friends what to do with their lives, especially around matters of romance, love and sex.

Unwanted advice

Getting others to alter their behaviour when they haven’t asked for help can come across as insulting or as a “threat”.

This is because when you try to direct others’ behaviour, it involves two dimensions: one is entitlement (your power to tell them what to do) and the other is contingency (how difficult it would be for them to take that action).

Giving unsolicited advice is a high-entitlement move that suggests you know better – a hard thing to claim when you’re talking as an outsider about someone else’s private love life. And asking someone to break things off with someone they’ve committed to is a high-contingency act that requires serious effort, emotionally and otherwise.

This is frustrating because our opinions about our friends’ lives stem from wanting to help and support them. And sometimes, friends make choices that are not just unwise, but dangerous. Hard conversations only get harder if the other person doesn’t agree there’s a problem, or that they need to change anything.

1. Solid evidence

First, you need a good base of evidence before you start these conversations. You cannot simply assert a belief when it comes to other people’s experiences: you need to be able to provide concrete examples that they can remember, interpret and discuss.

You can use some of the same basic strategies used in research to understand and improve the situation: specific, agreed examples give us a shared point of reference for doing so. Having these shared references is critical if the other person doesn’t see a problem.

2. Increase their awareness of the impact

Second, you’ll have to get them to notice that the situation might feel wrong and/or how what they’re doing might be impacting others in a negative way.

To do this, try encouraging them to... 

The article - by Dr Jessica Robles, a Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology in the School of Social Science and Humanities - continues on The Conversation website

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