How to Have the Conversations You Don’t Want to Have
I finally got around to watching most of Bridgerton. The Netflix series that had everyone buzzing several months back. I enjoyed it, but when the two main characters started having marital trouble, I had to scream into my pillow.
Dang, just have a conversation!!
We can’t have television drama if we have healthy conversations. But seriously [spoiler], the man you love announces to you that he won’t have children right before you’re married, and you don’t ask what’s up with that?
That’s on you, boo!
Challenging conversations are, well, challenging. We don’t like to have them with others. And we don’t want others to have them with us. Consequently, we aren’t very good at them because we avoid having them as much as possible.
However, many situations only get worse without having a conversation. And we CAN get better at these conversations with an intention to do better and attention to the things that will help us get there.
Here are a few things to consider before, during, and after the conversation.
1. Be clear on your purpose for having the conversation. What is an ideal outcome? What do you want for yourself? What do you want for the other person? What do you want for the relationship?
- Having thought through these questions before the conversation can help you from becoming over-critical or condescending.
- An ideal outcome may not be to get your way but rather to have a conversation where both people end up on the other side of it feeling more connected, heard, and trusted.
2. Consider the other person’s point of view. Before going to war with someone, take the time to see things from their perspective. They might have a valid issue that you haven’t considered. It’s not easy to do this, but those that deal with people effectively are good at stepping into someone else’s shoes.
- Consider what the other person knows and wants. Sometimes, others don’t have all the information that you do.
- Check the assumptions you’re making about the other person’s intentions. You may feel belittled, intimidated, or disrespected, but be cautious about assuming that was their intention. What you’re feeling may not be what they intended.
3. Start the conversation off on the right foot. Here are some ways to start a conversation that won’t immediately put the other person on the defense.
- I’d like to talk to you about _________________but first, I’d like to hear your perspective.
- I think we have different perspectives on________________. I’d like to hear your thoughts.
- I have something I want to share with you that I think will help us out.
- Can you help me understand your thoughts on _________________? I think we approach it differently, and I’d like to find some common ground.
4. Have the conversation at the right place and time. Most difficult conversations need to be done in private and at a time when everyone involved has enough time to participate and process their thoughts.
- It might be the right time for you, but make sure it’s also the right time for the person to whom you’re speaking.
- Make sure neither of you is overly tired, hungry, or distracted by anything else.
5. Start with curiosity. Pretend you don’t know anything about the situation (you may not know as much as you think). And try to learn as much as you can about the other person’s perspective. What do they want? What are they not saying?
- Ask open-ended questions that start with what or how.
- Try and refrain from WHY questions which can feel judgmental and parental.
6. Identify behavior but leave the person alone. Suppose you don’t like that your partner leaves their wet bath towel on the bathroom floor.
- You could say, “I noticed you left your wet towel on the floor, which can cause damage to the floor and creates a tripping hazard. I would appreciate it if you would hang them to dry.”
- Far less effective, “Why are you such a lazy person? What’s wrong with you?” This approach might feel good at the moment, but it always backfires and will not give you the outcome you want.
- When you attack others, their instinct is to strike back.
7. If it gets heated, acknowledge and return to your purpose. Having that anchor can help you not get hooked into the emotional state of the person you’re speaking to.
8. Forgive the other person and yourself, especially if it doesn’t go as well as you hoped.
- If you’re trying a new tactic, consider it an experiment and don’t be tied to a perfect result.
- Difficult conversations often result in hurt feelings. Forgiveness is part of the process of growing in relationships. Holding a grudge only creates additional pain for both of you.
9. Do something positive afterward. Avoid going back to your neutral corners after a difficult talk.
- Go for a walk, get a coffee, get outside of your home.
- Actively doing something together engages your mind and body, and it may help you remember why you care about this person.
Who do you need to have a challenging conversation with? What could be solved by having this conversation?
No one enjoys having these conversations, but with practice, you can get better at them.
Reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org; if you have any other tips or if you’ve found this article helpful, I’d love to hear from you.