How to Have Hard Conversations
Relationships are a necessary piece of our human existence. Not only would it be very hard to live a life without any human connection, it would not be good for our health as relationships are one of the 5 Pillars of Wellness. We are wired to connect. From the moment we are born we strive to connect and attach with other beings. We continue through life seeking to be heard and understood by the people around us in our lives. We desire connection at such a deep level that our health depends on it. The people we’re in relation with affect our physical health, our mental health, our financial health, our work success, our daily enjoyment, even our life span.
That said, relationships are one of the trickier pieces of our wellness because, since they involve another person, we are not in complete control. With the other pillars (sleep, exercise, soul care, and eating), we control how we manage our wellness. With relationships, we are in relation with another human and so, need to interact and communicate to insure our wellness. Hear that? Communication must happen. So many of the problems that my clients present with or that have come up in my past are because of communication. Either a lack of communication or that it’s being done in an aggressive, unhelpful way.
How to have Hard conversations with friends and family
One of my most popular blogs details the three crucial guideposts of healthy relationships. If you need a refresher, please re-read or re-watch it here. It’s short but powerful. One of the main guideposts relates to communication and how we must have those difficult conversations with those we’re in relationship with. In thriving relationships, you’ll have plenty of opportunities for difficult conversations and this is a good thing. Expect it as that means you’re growing, striving, and moving into that next great level. When a topic comes up for discussion, follow these 5 steps and you will keep and strengthen the connection in your important relationships.
1) Get Clear:
What do you want to talk about? What is the intent of your conversation? How do you want to feel after the conversation? We often skip this step but this is one of the most important. What do you want to talk about? Also ask yourself, what result do you want? What’s the best case result from this conversation? What’s the worst? What’s realistic? There is no winning or losing. A discussion is when two parties come together to learn of the other’s opinion on the matter. If you don’t want to know their opinion and they’re involved, that’s not a relationship. That’s more a dictatorship or a parent-child relationship. Don’t have the conversation. Go talk to a mirror. Get over your need to control everything and then come back when you’re ready to converse.
Choose a time to have a conversation where both of you are calm and neutral. This is usually not when whatever topic you want to discuss just came up. This is also not past 9 PM at night. My mantra: “No deep discussions after 9 PM.” Our brain is tired, it is not a time when our brain is looking for solutions. Check in with your physical self by asking questions such as: “Is my chest tight? Am I clenching my jaw? Is my brow furrowed? How deeply can I breathe?” These are all signs that the fight or flight part of your brain is triggered and that the conversation needs to wait.
3) Confirm Timing:
Yes, the other person matters. I want you to actually ask the other person if this is a good time to talk about what you want to talk about. This is necessary for many reasons. Two main ones are: (1) You might think you’re both neutral and calm but maybe the other person isn’t feeling as calm, or (2) the other person is calm but is not ready to deep dive into what you want to talk about. What to do? Ask. When in doubt, shout it out: “I’d like to talk to you about some things with our kids. Are you open to talking about it now?” or “I’d like your input on some pieces of our relationship, is now a good time to talk?”. Work with the other person to set a time that will work for both of you in the near future (within 24 hours if you live with the person).
4) Start Soft:
Marriage and relationship expert Dr. John Gottman encourages couples to begin with what he calls, a soft opening. Do you start your conversation accusatory? Do you start it calmly? Give this some thought before beginning. No matter how 'at fault' you think your partner is, approaching them with criticism or accusations is not productive. Click To Tweet I can determine the outcome of your discussion based on the first three minutes of your conversation. Are you blaming? Are you owning your responsibility? Are you looking to win? (spoiler alert: there is no win or lose) When you start the conversation gently, you communicate respect and cause both of you to feel positive about themselves and your relationship. This is a great time to remind yourself of your answers to the first step: What is my intent and how do I want to feel after this conversation? How do I want to act as a spouse, parent, co-worker, or daughter in this conversation?
5) Own Your Sh*t:
What is your role in whatever you’re talking about? How have you contributed to what is going on? This can be as simple as making sure that you use “I” statements. Eg “I feel frustrated when you interrupt me when I’m talking about my project.” or “I feel sensitive when you ask what I did while you were at work because I take it to mean you doubt I spent my day well” or “When you say ….., I think you mean…… Is this true?” Or, “You might have noticed me jump down your throat last night when you asked what we were doing with the kids for camp this summer. I’m sorry. I realize I’ve been thinking a lot about it but haven’t brought it up to discuss with you much.”
It is super crucial that you keep in mind the goal of your conversation. You are not trying to cut this person out of your life. You are not looking for a medal or a “I won” ribbon. Keep bringing your mind back to what your intent is with this conversation. Hopefully it is to come to some sort of an agreement on how to move forward or to compromise. You have to realize that, if you think you’re right, the other person thinks they’re just as right. There’s no need to dive in to right or wrong, you are looking to move forward.
Foundations of Productive Conversations
In the end, all productive conversations include certain components. Each party is an emotional adult, they take ownership for their actions and move towards the other person with the intent to understand their experience. They drop the drama. There’s no need to re-hash things from the past or threaten future actions. Lower your guard, come together, and communicate. We are meant to connect with others and it is up to us to do the connecting from an emotionally responsible, adult place. Let’s go Warriors, we’ve got this.