SparkNotes Blog

Tough Conversations 101: How to Say What’s On Your Mind

The New Year (soonish) feels like a good time to have a chat about tough conversations—the ones that put a little knot in your stomach, or, if you’re me, make you stress-eat a sleeve of pistachio cookies. Mustering up the courage to tell someone how you’re really feeling is kind of an art, in that it takes time and practice and sometimes the release of creative energy by throwing paint at a wall.

When is a tough conversation called for? Maybe someone just ragged on RBG in AP Gov and you feeling like flinging pencils at them. Maybe your best friend has a habit that’s bothered you for months, but you’re not sure how to confront him. Maybe you’re in luv, but you’re scared of what might happen if you pull a Darcy—this and one million other pickles, which I cordially invite you to tell me about (and how you’ve resolved them) in the comments barrel.

And know that while I’m about to give you advice for dealing with these things, I’m also very guilty of not taking a page out of my own book. Taking pages out of books is easier said than done, as is swearing that I’ll limit my use of clichéd phrases. Read on for the five steps that the universes promises to make tough stuff a little more manageable, and when you finish, we’ll both work on following through.

Illustrations by the extraordinarily talented Elliana Esquivel (follow her here and here!)



A lot of us are trained to question our thoughts and opinions, and that’s a good thing a lot of the time. You should constantly question yourself and your surroundings; that’s how we learn, why we double-check before we submit a Scantron (sometimes), why we’re able to hear out other people’s opinions without spontaneously combusting. HowEVer, it’s one thing to question yourself, and a whole other to harbor a destructive amount of self-doubt.

When it comes to a feeling that’s been rattling in your head for longer than you’d expected, it’s time to give that feeling the attention it’s clearly begging for. You’re not crazy! Your thoughts are valid, except obviously if they’re negative opinions on a Hemsworth. Take yourself seriously, and question why those thoughts or feelings are still nagging you, no matter how many times you’ve tried to squeeze them into a cobwebby corner of your brain cabinet.



It’s easy to be a baked potato of emotions in the heat of the moment. That’s why I count to ten every time someone tells me they prefer Thomas Jefferson over Alexander Hamilton. I could start passive-aggressively quoting the Federalist papers or throw a pencil at the wall, but, frankly, that’s a waste of quotes and pencils.

The better way to handle heated emotions when you want to call someone out, or simply tell him/her what’s been on your mind forEVER, is to stay calm. Dumping an entire bottle of hot sauce on the situation is not advisable, as is dumping an entire bottle of hot sauce on any actual food product. Staying calm will let you assess the situation and organize yourself—for example, maybe Tim only blasted Ruth Bader Ginsburg to push your buttons because he like likes you.

(For one way to stay calm, see diagram above and Belle.)



It’s so, so important to think before you speak. But if you wait too long to speak your mind about what’s bothering you, the situation will either have long lost its relevance, or your feelings will start eating at your brains. Bringing a past fault back from the dead will only make things more negative, and bottling up an unspoken emotion will result in a soda and mentos experiment of feelings. Use your calm and your dandelions in step two to gather your thoughts and visualize what you’ll say, and then prepare yourself to say it as soon as you’re ready.


One of the most important things about speaking your mind is to consider how your words might be taken. To do this:

  • Think about the time and place you’re having this conversation. Are you about to call Tim out in front of his swim team bros? Are you about to proclaim your love for him in front of his swim team bros? Maybe wait until you two won’t be overheard.
  • Be genuine without being aggressive/flinging pencils—this is the difference between catfights and adulting.
  • Be prepared for any number of hot-sauce reactions, and respond as calmly as you can to them.



Step five: Breathe deep, use a steady voice, and then speak all of the words. Think about what you want to say beforehand, but don’t memorize a script (unless it’s a poem, because that’s fantastic). Dive in; once you hit the water, the weight will slip off your shoulders and I will bake you a congratulatory carrot cake for making the effort to speak your mind. These conversations are hard because we’re human, but being human means we can get over that hump when we try (much easier than river toads can, trust).

How do you get through the tough conversations?