Getting together over the holidays can be a stressful time if you're planning on having a difficult conversation with a loved one. We might have a tendency to avoid or delay it as much as possible, but to have a strong relationship with that person, these kinds of conversations are necessary. Whether or not it's successful is all in how you approach it.
- You've introspected and prepared yourself emotionally to start from a place of love and support, not frustration or aggression.
- You did your homework so you can come to the table with options and resources to shift the conversation from hypothetical thinking to concrete planning.
- You set a specific time and place and made sure to allow plenty of time to have the conversation without feeling rushed.
- You've enlisted the help of others to support you or help you practice.
Now it's time to have the actual conversation. The preparations you did should have you feeling less stressed and more confident that the discussion will be productive. Let's get into some tips on what you can do during the conversation to have a more successful outcome.
First, make sure you're starting from a positive, focused, and emotionally-balanced state of mind. Prayer and meditation are useful to settle one's mind and emotions. If you ever feel like the conversation is going off focus or emotions are getting heightened, try to bring the conversation (and yourselves) back on center. Remember your purpose. If a conversation ever gets too heated, it's okay to agree to revisit the issue later.
Instead of accusing, blaming, or assuming you understand how the other person is feeling or why they act/acted a certain way, come from a place of curiosity and respect. Ask questions, even if you think you know the answers. Inquiring and listening will go a long way towards coming to an agreement or understanding. Let your partner talk until they are finished and don't take what they say personally. Watch their body language for clues on how they are feeling and if they might be leaving something out that they truly want to say. The goal is to learn as much as you can before it is your turn.
Once they are done, acknowledge what you heard and rephrase what they said back to them to prove you understand where they are coming from. If someone doesn't feel understood or heard, it will make it that much harder for them to accept any help or come to any compromise/understanding. Note that acknowledging is not the same as agreeing.
After you've heard their point of view and acknowledged it, you may express yours. Own any role you might have in the conflict, however small. Avoid using accusatory absolutes such as "always" or "never" when talking about the issue. Since you've heard their side, it will be easier to phrase your perspective in the context of intent versus impact. For example, "I felt ____ when you ____. I know now that wasn't your intention. However, this was how it impacted me." If the conversation is about their health or well-being (e.g., with an aging parent), explain your concerns honestly, empathetically, and with respect. If they feel heard and supported, they are more likely to confide their fears and worries with you (and work together for a solution) instead of becoming defensive.
The primary goal of this entire conversation is first to hear and be heard and to reach the understanding that you're on the same side. The next goal is to fix something, whether that be your relationship with each other, their relationship with others, their health or safety, and so on. With something to fix comes the need for a solution. Because you planned ahead, you made sure to start with a collaborative tone and came prepared with solutions/resources. Start by asking your partner for their ideas and thoughts on how you can work through this issue together. Whatever they say, find something positive about it and build on it. When providing your options and brainstorming, use collaborative language such as "we" and "us" instead of "you" and "me."
When the conversation is coming to a close, recap what was discussed and the solutions that were agreed upon. Tell them you appreciate them taking their time to discuss something important to you. If both parties leave the conversation feeling good about it, you two are more apt to discuss difficult issues sooner and more productively. This is how you build strong relationships.
Big issues might take more than one conversation to resolve, and that's okay. What's important is that you take the time to deepen your understanding of the other person and keep the lines of communication open and flowing. Relationships require nurturing; make an effort and you will be blessed with one that is long-lasting and incredibly rewarding.