“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” – Ernest Hemingway
The holidays seem to be a time when people are brought together (for better or worse) and communication is part of the game. I want to focus on some strategies related to having challenging conversations.
Without healthy skills, many of us avoid conversations (and get resentful because people can’t read our minds) or we plow through them like a wrecking ball. The biggest problem with communication is this phrase: They should just know this is what I want/need.
NO! We cannot read each other’s minds.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
― George Bernard Shaw
Might I suggest a few strategies related to talking about challenging things (e.g., my feelings are hurt because, what you said upset me, I need more from you, I’m feeling like this because)
- Do I need to talk about this now? Sometimes we are grumpy and we pick a fight so that our outside world matches our inside world. If this is the case, allow yourself some space to get into a better place emotionally. Sometimes if you give yourself 24-72 hours you may realize that you don’t need to have the conversation. It is best to be sure of this before starting.
- Can the relationship handle the weight of this conversation? Some relationships are not strong enough to handle the pressure of high expectations. Before starting a tough conversation, consider if the relationship can/should bear the weight. Also, some people have different perceptions of relationships. For example, you might think you have a certain type of closeness with someone and they might not realize you feel this way.
- Breathe.Take several deep breaths. This tells your brain that the person is not an adversary. The goal is to preserve the relationship, not destroy the person. Pausing and breathing will prevent defensiveness and reactivity.
- Ask the person if this is a good time to talk. If the person says no, ask them when a good time might be. It is best to set the conversation up for success and timing is everything.
- Give the person the benefit of the doubt. Most people are not trying to hurt you on purpose.
- State your concern as kindly and compassionately as possible. If you are having a serious conversation with someone you care about then act like it.
- Listen to what they have to say. Patiently and kindly listen. Take your time with this process.
- Remember that what you say and what they hear are often not the same. So, ask questions.
- Conflict does not mean fight. Conflict is healthy and normal. Fighting is not healthy and gets you nowhere. The goal is to better understand each other, not to win.
- Believe the person if they say they did not know or notice that this was a problem. Remember we are all pretty self-involved and they can’t read your mind.
- If the other person gets defensive, pause to listen to them and breathe. Please do not return with more defensiveness or reactivity. This will lead to a fight and will be detrimental to the relationship.
- Let it go. Do not go over it and over it, again and again. When you feel like you’ve expressed yourself the best you can and you feel like the other person heard you the best they could, let it go and move on. Do not hold on to resentments to use later. The process will not be perfect, but if you care about each other it will reach some end.
- Accept that some relationships will not survive this process. Let those relationships go. They may come back around and they may not, but don’t force a relationship to be something it is not.
“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”
― Fred Rogers