Healthy relationships don't just happen. They're created, challenged, maintained and nurtured. Over the course of our relationships with loved ones, it's natural to be met with conflict at some point, whether that be unresolved issues, unexpressed challenges or concerns about their health or happiness. We tend to put these conversations off because we're fearful of how the other person will react and how it will impact the relationship. However, in order to enjoy deep, meaningful connections with other people we need to be able to face uncomfortable and difficult conversations. Sharing our perspective, clearing the air or letting someone know how we feel are crucial elements to relational depth. If you've been avoiding or dreading a tough conversation, consider these tips on how to begin the process of preparing yourself before the big talk.
Know Your “Why” Before the “How”
Before we even discuss how to hold the conversation, you need to analyze yourself first. Ask yourself what your motivation is for this conversation and what you are hoping to accomplish. We tend to think our intentions are always honorable, but are there hidden purposes you might not be admitting to yourself? Are you coming from a place of love or from the need to control? Only by releasing your less useful or harmful intentions and entering the conversation with a truly supportive purpose will it have a chance to be successful.
Realize that the goal of the conversation is not for you to “win” or for the other person to see things your way (aka “the right way”). The goal is for both of you to listen and understand each other and figure out a solution.
A heightened emotional state does not lend well to a rational and thoughtful conversation. Staying in charge of your emotional energy goes a long way towards keeping the conversation on track. Take the time to acknowledge your feelings beforehand; are you feeling disrespected, intimated, frustrated? If your loved one is the cause of these emotions, do you think that was their intention or was there a miscommunication between their intent and its impact? Is there something in your personal history that may have affected how you reacted to the situation that isn't necessarily the fault of the other person? Are you also partly to blame for the situation? By acknowledging your feelings, looking at them from a more objective place and putting them into perspective, you will know that they are there (and why), be able to express them effectively, have much more control over them during the conversation and not let them get in the way of the message.
Have you tried to have difficult conversations with this loved one or others in the past and it went badly? Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can't – you're right.” If you go into this conversation thinking it'll be just like the other bad ones, you're right. If you go into it with positivity, believing that whatever happens some good will come out of it, you're also right. Your attitude and energy going into the conversation will help determine the outcome.
Understanding the Other Side
Make the other person a partner instead of an opponent, with both of you working towards the same goal of repairing and strengthening your relationship. Consider how they might view the situation. Are they even aware there's a problem? Through perspective taking, you will become more empathetic and increase your ability to predict how they'll react during your conversation. You'll be better suited to come from a place of compassion and mutual interest and allow your “partner” to feel heard, validated and understood.
So much of a difficult conversation is how you prepare for it ahead of time. By using the tips above, you'll ensure your conversation starts off on the right foot: one of love, support and understanding.