Word. Wednesday. Say It Now: “This feels _______ to discuss…”

Posted by on Mar 28, 2012 in General, Interpersonal Communication | 12 comments

Another moment of staring at her computer, and then to see her prof to talk about how she feels!

(Here I am again! I didn’t forget Word. Wednesday! And, guess what… it’s still Wednesday! I’m finding my footing with my new blog, so thank you for being patient today. Are you ready for what to say? You can actually use this one any day–it’s a keeper. Here goes!)

What’s the word? (This week, it’s a phrase):

“This feels risky/difficult/scary/awkward to talk about/mention/discuss…”

A plagiarized outline.

A recorded speech received in my online class where the student is reading/sitting/without a body (yes, I get the talking heads more often than I can count! In each of these cases, I return the recording, ungraded).

A grade that I know the student wasn’t expecting… or absolutely doesn’t want.

Unquestionably, in my job, there are times that I have to deliver bad news. When these times come, I never want students to think that I have no feelings about what I’m about to say. Therefore, I usually start with, “This is a difficult discussion for me to have and I know it may be equally difficult for you to hear.”

Now let’s twist this in a different way: So many students tell me that they are downright afraid to talk to their profs. They feel intimidated. They don’t want to piss off the prof. They feel ashamed about their issue.

So they don’t say anything at all. We both know what can happen then: Nothing. No change and no potential for improvement.

Here’s the other way that students often start difficult conversations: With fire and acid: Tons of “you” language, vicious tone, and blame smeared all over the walls: “You gave me bad grade!” or “You didn’t explain that to me!”

So, say this instead…

I get that saying nothing or going straight to anger are far more comfortable responses than what I’m going to suggest. And, believe it or not, I empathize with you for feeling afraid of speaking to your prof. I know you’re calling “BS” on me, thinking, “Yeah, right, Ellen… You have all the words to say. You never seem to have a problem talking.”

Well, I’ll tell you this, give me the right mixture of aggressive personality type, combined with someone who triggers me like a dysfunctional family member (of course, I have those!), and even I can clam up. It’s true. But, I have found that one way to create a “soft start-up” is by laying my own feelings down at the outset of the conversation.

“This feels scary for me to bring up…”

“This feels risky to discuss. I’m concerned about how you’ll react…”

“This feels difficult for me to talk about…”

When you talk about how you feel, the other person will hopefully have a twinge of empathy for you, and their own defensiveness won’t ramp up. Essentially, you are softening the person a bit and possibly opening their mind to hear you out before they react.

Also, think about it: If a friend came to you and set their feelings out there like a picnic blanket, you’d be taken aback by their disclosure, you’d listen, and then probably think, “Oh, wow, I really feel for you. What can I do to help?

Few people want to let their feelings show, right? They have too much pride, too much ego, too much fear. But, really, when we own our feelings, we stand a greater chance that the other person will identify what we’re feeling and give us the help we need.

The next time you have to confront a prof (or anyone), give this approach a try. Say,

“This feels difficult for me to discuss, but I’m worried about my standing in this class.”


“This feels scary to think about due to what might happen with my financial aid, but I missed a bunch of class and I think I may need to consider dropping.”

You may humanize even the most seemingly stern professor. You may learn some things about your other professors that you didn’t know–like when they had the same feelings that you have right now.

I know that you can say these words… and, as always, I can’t wait to hear about it when you do! (So, hint… drop me a note and tell me about it!)

Say it forward!


  1. I really liked your blog! It helped me alot… Awesome. Exactly what I was looking for. Thanks!

    • Hi, Aniela,

      Thank you so very much! I appreciate your compliment and hope to hear from you again! Ellen

    • Vilaine langue Je pense la même chose cependant, Nadal ne perd pas parce qu’il joue mal, Nadal perd parce qu’il est blessé Plus sérieusement, je crois sincèrement qu’il s’est enfermé dans cette spirale : il veut tellement tout gagner, qu’il en est vexé de perdre, et pour rien au monde, n&o1#87;av2uerait être moins bon que son adversaire.La pause lui a fait un bien fou , il est reparti au combat billes en tête

  2. Ya think this would work with my wife, Professor?

    • Bruce, absolutely. Dr. John Gottman, who is a famous marriage researcher at UW and has written numerous books http://www.gottman.com/51326/Dr-John-Gottman.html calls the opposite “harsh start-up.” We discuss this in my interpersonal class. Ellen

  3. This is a timely, useful article. I just shared it on Facebook and will add to my arsenal of communication techniques to share with young people to give them success tools for a lifetime. Thanks for writing.

    • Mary, thank you so much! That’s an amazing comment. This is my goal… to help young people find the confident, competent words to use for their lifetime. Students are losing the ability to communicate face-to-face. There was just a piece in USA Today about interpersonal skills becoming weaker due to digital devices–literally our brains can become rewired if we don’t use our skills! It scares me. Let’s keep this torch burning together! Ellen

  4. Tremendous! This particular is all I can think pertaining to a blog post like this excellent. This kind of is literally a notably explanatory article post on the blog. You just need to know a lot about this amazing.

  5. Is going to be back frequently in order to check up on new posts 634924

    • Thank you!

  6. I have been absent for some time, but now I remember why I used to love this blog. Thank you, I will try and check back more frequently. How frequently you update your site?

    • Hello,

      I’m trying for three times per week! We’ll see how I do :-) .

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