It’s hard to see a sister make poor decisions. It’s even harder to have a conversation with her about her choices. But being a good friend and sister is more than taking cute pictures and sharing closets; it means having the confidence to step in when a sister needs help.
Perhaps you notice that a sister is consistently late for class because she’s been prioritizing her social calendar, and it’s starting to affect her grades. You’re concerned that she might wind up on academic probation, and you want to let her know that you’re seeing her sabotage her GPA. Or perhaps you notice a sister has started to spend a lot of time in her dorm room and makes less of an effort to be involved on campus. You worry she might be depressed, but you aren’t sure how to approach the topic. Having hard conversations with sisters can be intimidating. And while we hope no one is ever in these situations, sometimes sisters make choices that can hurt them: turning to drugs, alcohol or substance abuse instead of choosing a healthy way to cope. How do you let her know you’re concerned without her resenting you for bringing it up in the first place?
No one wants to be a wet blanket or accidentally offend a friend. But when it comes to facing hard choices, no one ever regretted choosing safety. You may be the person who spoke up just in time to give her the wakeup call she needs. Here are our five tips for approaching hard topics and having difficult conversations:
- Be mindful of your own mental and emotional state. Sometimes, a sister’s actions can leave us feeling frustrated. If you’re seeing red, it’s probably not a good time to dive into a serious topic that needs to be handled with care. You’ll be able to have a productive chat and express your concerns with much more success if you are cool, calm and collected. Wait to have the conversation until after you’ve had a moment to breathe, but don’t put it off for so long that you lose the gumption to address the situation. If you can’t calmly voice your thoughts in the moment, give yourself a deadline for addressing the issue and stick to it.
- Consider the setting. If you need to have a serious chat with a sister, standing in a space full of people will likely put her on edge. The goal is to create a judgement free zone where you can express your concerns and she can talk freely, so the space you choose is important. Your room or hers might have roommates coming and going, so think of a spot with less foot traffic. Maybe a coffee shop or a park bench on campus, somewhere she’ll feel comfortable, and you can have privacy.
- Start with the heart. Explain to your sister that the reason you’re speaking to her is because you love her, and you are concerned about her well-being. This is a conversation about care, not about consequences. When you approach the issue, focus on the behavior not the person. For example, “When you separate yourself from the group while we’re at a party, it makes me feel panicked, because I don’t want anything bad to happen to you.” Or, “When I see you blow off studying to go out at night, it makes me worry because I don’t want to see you get so far behind with schoolwork that you can’t catch up.” Sounds a lot better than, “You’re being irresponsible!” doesn’t it?
- Aim for dialogue instead of debate. Dialogue is collaborative: multiple sides work toward a shared understanding. It’s positive and constructive. Debate is oppositional: two opposing viewpoints trying to prove each other wrong. In dialogue, one listens to understand and find common ground. In debate, one listens to find flaws, spot differences and form counter arguments. Trust us, hard conversations are so much easier when they function as dialogue and not debate.
- Practice active listening. After you’ve stated your case, listen without interrupting or assuming you know what your sister is about to say. Give her the opportunity to express how she feels. She may get defensive with you, and that’s OK. Even if she doesn’t seem receptive in the moment, she may come around after she has had time to think about your concerns. Knowing that her friends are seeing this kind of behavior and are there to support her will mean so much.
Sometimes, even when you follow all the steps to facilitate a safe space and conduct a productive conversation, it falls flat. Remember you can always speak to members of your Kappa Delta standards board if you continue to be concerned. They’ll be thankful that you used your voice to help a sister.
For more tips on tackling tough conversations with your sisters, reference the in the Choose Your Confidence toolkit!