Years ago, a wise coach taught me that “You can’t not have your thoughts and feelings.” Neuroscience tells us that they occur in your brain in about 3/1000’s of a second. That’s too fast for you to either stop or control. You get to decide what to do about them, but not having them is not an option.

The good news for you is that because you can’t stop or control them your thoughts and feelings, you have every right to have them. You also have every right to tell other people what they are. All you have to do is acknowledge that they’re not objective truths. They’re just your thoughts and feelings.

You have every right to say, “This is what I’m thinking or how I’m feeling right now.” No one can tell you otherwise. That’s the Unarguable Position. And it’s the position to speak from when it’s time to say something difficult.

But just as no one has the right to tell you what’s going on in your head, neither do you have the right to tell them what’s going on in their head. That’s up to them.

Few of us are ever taught how to say difficult things to other people. In fact, we’re actually taught not to (“If you can’t say something nice. . .”). So in contentious situations, most people will either hold back (and feel awful about it) or blurt out something they’ll regret later (and feel awful about it).

Instead, try starting by letting the other person know what you’re thinking or feeling. You can only do this if you start with the humility of understanding that your thoughts may well be wrong, and your feelings may well be misplaced. A great way to make sure that’s where you’re coming from is to start with, “I could be wrong, but. . .”

It’s the simple difference between telling someone, “You’re being defensive!” vs. “Maybe I’m wrong, but It feels to me like you’re being defensive.” Instead of “That’ll never work!” it might be, “I don’t know that I’m right, but the thought in my head right now is that it’s going to be difficult or impossible to make that work.” Instead of “You’re not up to this job,” it’s “The thought’s gone through my head a few times recently that you might not be up to this job.”

In each of those pairs, one response is aggressive, the other empathetic. One clamors for an exclamation point. The other can’t accommodate one.

Most importantly, one will start and argument, while the other will start a discussion.

Your call.