Communication Tips for Stressful Discussions

Certain conversations can be stressful. This can be a barrier to having important discussions or can make it harder to communicate in a way that is authentic and healthy. Some eating disorder professionals say that learning communication skills can be a really important part of recovery [1].

This is because some people turn to their eating disorder instead of talking about their feelings and needs with others. Thankfully it’s possible to learn how to communicate better. Learning communication skills can make stressful talks easier and more productive. Here are some tips on how to improve your communication skills.

Assertive Communication

There are four communication styles. One of these styles is known as assertive communication. When people communicate assertively, they speak honestly and openly [2]. They may be talking about their feelings, thoughts, needs, or wants.

While they speak honestly, they also hold in mind the other person’s perspective. Assertive communication is a way of approaching a conversation with the intention for both people to get their needs met.

One of the ways to communicate assertively is to use “I-Messages.” I-Messages are a way to own your feelings and thoughts without blaming the other person. An example of an I-Message is, “I felt sad when you didn’t text me back because I really wanted to talk to you.”

This clearly communicates to the other person without blaming or accusing them. This can be helpful for all types of discussions, but especially stressful ones. During stressful conversations, emotions can run high, and this can lead people to shut down or say things they wouldn’t normally say.

Having a framework for how to communicate can help someone feel more settled and prepared for hard discussions.

Know When To Take a Break

Conversations are not going to be productive if either person is too angry or emotional. Sometimes it can help to take a break from the conversation until both people are calm. This can help keep the discussion on track.

Two African American men working on their CommunicationTaking a break is also an opportunity to take care of yourself. If difficult emotions come up, you can use this time to relax and unwind. Whether it helps to take a walk or listen to some music, taking care of yourself can help you return to the conversation with a clear mind.

Active Listening

Active listening is when you give someone your undivided attention so you can really hear what they’re saying. Often during stressful conversations, people listen so they can figure out how to respond. Active listening is listening with the intention of understanding the other person [2].

Letting someone else know that you are listening and understanding them is a powerful way to diffuse tension. One way to let them know you are listening is through body language [2]. Maintaining eye contact and sitting facing someone are two ways to use body language to show that you’re engaged in the conversation.

Another way to show someone you are listening is to let them know what you heard them say. This could sound like, “I hear you saying that you’re upset that I didn’t refill the gas tank.” Repeating back what you heard shows you are really hearing them.

Just like with other skills, communication skills take practice. It can be intimidating to start practicing since some discussions are very emotional. The more you do it, the better you’ll become. This can help you feel more confident during stressful discussions.


[1] A. Florio, personal communication, March 8, 2021.

[2] MindTools. Active listening. (n.d).

About the Author:

Samantha Bothwell PhotoSamantha Bothwell, LMFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, writer, explorer, and lipstick aficionado. She became a therapist after doing her own healing work so she could become whole after spending many years living with her mind and body disconnected. She has focused her clinical work to support the healing process of survivors of sexual violence and eating disorders. She is passionate about guiding people in their return to their truest Self so they can live their most authentic, peaceful life.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published March 31, 2021, on
Reviewed & Approved on March 31, 2021, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.