How to Talk About Potentially Triggering Topics


Alexander Walters, Author

Everyone has struggled with having the awkward conversation where you’re beating around the bush, avoiding the elephant in the room and not trying to upset anyone, but somehow still managed to upset someone or hurt them. No one wants to hurt anyone, we’d all like to think, but oftentimes things need to be talked about in one way or another.

Of course, no one knows the exact recipe to avoid disaster, but there are a few ways to help make hard conversations easier. 

A good way off, start by asking the person or group if it is okay to talk about whatever it is you need to, mentioning what the topic is. Give time to allow others to voice their opinions, whether positive or negative, about the topic and whether or not it will become a deeper conversation. If people decide they don’t want to talk about it, then don’t.

If in a group discussion, and it is divided amongst everyone whether or not to continue the conversation, offer to have a separate discussion with those who want to, or ask to talk about it later. 

In general, the consensus to having a hard discussion is simply to be kind and respectful of the other people involved and recognize other people’s perspectives. 

Once again, this varies from person to person, as each person has their own individual needs and boundaries. Go with caution when talking about topics that are known to be potentially harmful, and ensure that everyone is comfortable. If you accidentally harm anyone in these situations, apologize and ask how you can help, and how you can make the situation better. 

Individual needs have to be considered during difficult conversations, and there should always be a possibility to escape or backup topics in mind in case conversations divert too much to the negative side. Ensure that respect is maintained throughout the discussion, keeping in mind that everyone has a different perspective and different background. 

In this day and age, conversations are becoming more and more difficult and it can be easy to let things spill out, but by maintaining a good “vibe”, these can be avoided. Think before you speak and take care of yourself.

If you or someone you know are struggling, there are a multitude of resources out there, such as hotlines, websites for resources, therapists and more. A few well known hotlines include the suicide hotline ((800) 273-8255), the Trevor Project, (both a website and phone both by text and calling, for texting, text ‘START’ to 678-678 or call 1-866-488-7386). Resources are available to help if needed.