How do you feel when you hear, or even say, those words;
We need to talk…
Chances are, it’s backed with a little anxiety, frustration, fear, and uncertainty. We are programed to avoid discomfort. However, difficult conversations are a necessary component to transparent communication. We can’t truly connect with others if we aren’t willing to have the difficult conversations and address the discomfort that nestles itself in our relationships. When I talk about relationships, I don’t mean just our close personal intimate relationships, I mean ALL relationships; friends, loved ones, co-workers, bosses, etc. The people you have to interact with to function through life.
When the quest for resolution becomes greater than the comfort of avoidance, the first step is to talk. Pretty simple, right? Yet, it’s the one thing that is lacking MOST in relationships and probably the number one thing in why relationships fail. Communication needs to happen in order to change the circumstance. Communication does not always lead to “agreement”, but it when done effectively, openly and honestly, it gives you a platform to stand up for yourself, your values and sets boundaries for what your willing to allow in your own space. It gives you the release to say, “I spoke my truth.” After all, we are only in control of ourselves; our thoughts, our words and our actions.
There are moments when I need to really assess whether or not I need to begin a conversation that I perceive as difficult. I don’t always know how to begin. I fear the confrontation. I worry about their ability to receive it. I sometimes doubt that it will be effective. So I ask myself these questions and make a plan:
What’s the value of the relationship?
How much do you want this relationship to work? Is this your boss or a co-worker that you need to work alongside to be successful at your job? Is this your spouse or significant other whom you love and want to help the relationship strengthen and grow? Is is a dear friend that means a lot to you? Perhaps it’s a toxic relationship that you really just need to let go? What’s the value of the relationship? Will the conversation help? Assess how much you really want to keep it as part of your life and how necessary it is to support the relationship. If it means a lot to you, then you know the difficult conversation needs to be started.
What’s the message you want to convey?
Before initiating the conversation, really think about your message? What’s your goal of the conversation? Are you setting a boundary? Are you expressing love? Are you asking for support? Are you wanting to gain respect? Are you wanting to express feelings? Are you asking for guidance? Are you wanting to reconcile? So many things to consider! However, it’s an important task to go through! Before you enter a conversation, you need to be fully aware of what you want out of it. What are your objectives for the conversation and what approach is going to get your closer to reaching those objectives?
Stick to your plan.
So you’ve determined your objectives. Now, stick to it. Every statement that you express needs to be backed to support your goal. If you entered the conversation with the goal “I want to express love and growth in our relationship”, it would definitely not be a good idea to fall into the “blame game” of all the things that have gone wrong. You wanted your messages to focus on how the relationship is important to you and why you love that person and what steps need to happen in order for that love to grow.
If you are going to an employer about conflict at the work place, your messages would need to be backed with respect, boundaries, and hopes to support and succeed in the organization. Demands and complaints aren’t solution focused and could backfire causing your messages to not be heard.
Know when to stop.
When your messages are no longer moving you forward in the conversation and you are unable to stay on track with your objectives, stop the conversation. End it by stating your original goal. “My hope was to talk with you to _______________, but I realize that this is not effective.” Then stop. If the conversation is not serving BOTH participants, it can actually be destructive. You already established the relationship was valuable to you, so destroying it would be the opposite of your original intention. It’s ok to recognize it is not going as planned and set the boundary that you would like to step back. Additionally, you cannot control what the other person feels or says, but you can control what you’re willing to listen to. If what the other person is saying is also pulling you from the original goal, you have the right to say, “I can no longer contribute to this conversation.” (Communication takes TWO; each must set their own boundaries of what they want to share and what they’re willing to hear.)
Sometimes when you have to stop the conversation, you have to go back to the original question: What’s the value of the relationship? Then you go through the steps again. This might take a few cycles; but with each reflection and assessment of your objectives, and the ability to stop when it’s no longer effective, you can and will slowly and surely get to a place of peace and acceptance. When we live with the unsaid, we bury our own value. We each have a voice and have the right to share our thoughts, beliefs and boundaries. When those are heard and received, we can then build relationships that allow us to be best selves.
For more information and support on Starting the Difficult Conversation, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org