We continue along the path of a most conscious and compassionate communication. I want to close the year by addressing a central issue in the development of our relational skills: how to best manage those difficult conversations that we all experience in our work and personal environments.
I will not enter here into conflicts with people who unfortunately embody the dark side, where the best option may be not to say another word and change lanes. What I propose is to explore interpersonal conflicts in which the other party is worthy of our desire to improve the situation: conflict with a friend, a family member, a co-worker or an acquaintance. In short, how can we have better difficult conversations with anyone with whom we want to continue interacting in a healthy and respectful way.
A preliminary note: I find this article difficult, because actually I am a bad example to follow in this subject. For years, my characteristic diplomacy had little of authenticity and much of atavistic fear of conflict. In a painful situation, given the possibility of a “simple” conversation with the person(s) involved, anticipated terror always won and my only way out was that false diplomacy. In my blessed innocence, I believed that not confronting protected me from further damage, but in reality, it has given me decades of poorly digested silences.
In addition, I learned that in the end my containment did not favor the other party, although it might have seemed like it. So, I confess: for not having had more difficult conversations, I have caused disasters that you would not believe. Being still an apprentice, I only dare to title the article as “some ideas.” Here they go.
First idea: before opening your mouth, let the soufflé come down. It seems obvious to remember that in the heat of the moment it is better not to tackle any complicated conversation, but it does not hurt to insist on it. Because the emotional storm generated by conflict with someone we appreciate often takes us very far from our own center, and from that off-center point we will neither take good decisions nor have constructive dialogue.
I propose that everyone here uses their favorite method to calm the waters: go jogging, cry, loud music, talk to third parties not involved, walk in silence, contemplate Beauty, … Whatever, but first the storm needs to sooth. From a position of greater serenity, even if we are still hurting, it will be time to propose that restorative talk.
Second idea: you have to dare. Coming from a Master of the Universe in the Avoidance of Conflict like me, crying out for daring has its thing. But please keep the faith here. The typical situation can be the following: someone does or says something that you not like or directly hurts, and you, to avoid that conversation that could clarify and improve things, will end up thinking that it is not so much; or you will convince yourself that it will go away; or you will tell yourself that it is not necessary to delve into wounds. Anything not to put you in the situation of having to talk to the other party. And in the meantime, that whir inside that won’t let you sleep and will steal huge amounts of energy. And time will pass, and there could remain a badly treated wound that in extreme cases can take years to heal.
Obviously, difficult conversations are called that because we find them difficult to have. But I insist: you have to dare. Find the good moment, breathe at will and have the courage. As good as you can, even if you don’t feel 100% prepared. Here we do not seek perfection. Have that conversation, because in most cases it will be better than to shut up. And we will be polishing the process so that the next one works out better.
Third idea: do not speak from your wound, but express how you felt. Let’s see if I can explain it well with an example. I have a disagreement with a friend, all the springs jump and we arrive at strong accusations. Uncontrollable storm of painful emotions, the soufflé in high rise, the mind obsessively thinking around the issue. And in the tangle, that internal impulse to find the way back to balance. You are hurt, you are angry, you may even be offended. But if you talk to the other party from that totally ego-centered point of pain, anger or offense, the risk that the conflict gets worse is very high.
Let’s open the look. Can you try to accept that the other person is like you, in the sense that he does what he can with his own conditioning, fears and sensitive points? Believe me, he hasn’t come to this world just to annoy you. And he will probably be equally hurt, angry or offended. As I say, if you both engage in a conversation from each other’s wound, the thing will become a new battle of mutual accusations.
Let’s keep opening. Are you able to take a little distance from your wound? You can feel it, of course – we are human! – but you better not let it take control of the situation. Look at it as if you were a neutral observer who sees that conflict from the outside and understands the pain of both parties. And from that new point of view, it will be easier to raise a conversation that embeds a spirit of reconciling, learning and building beyond conflict.
Getting not to speak from the center of the wound does not take away the possibility of openly expressing how the conflict made you feel. This difference was very difficult for me to understand, and it seems fundamental to clarify it.
If any specific act or comment hurt you, you can say it as it is. For example: “When you said such and such, it hurt me deeply; I don’t know if you touched an unresolved spring of mine, I’ll see, but it hurt”. Period, without more. Just say it out loud. Here there is no accusation to the other person. There is only sincere expression of something that the other said or did and that caused you pain. It may even be that at that time you are only able to say no more. And it will be fine like this. To my opinion, doing this is more than acceptable: it is very healthy. I encourage you to try it in your next difficult conversation.
Fourth idea: control your expectations. Imagine that you have followed the process of calming the waters, daring to propose that difficult conversation and not speaking from your wound while still expressing your feelings. If you manage to smoke the peace pipe at first, congratulations and go celebrate! And if not, then I will tell you that, if the other person really matters to you, keep patient, confident and persevere. This is one of those cases where it doesn’t matter where you arrive, but that you have begun the process of learning to have difficult conversations with greater awareness. Practice makes the Master, as you know.
There would be much more to say, but for today I end it here. On Internet you will find infinite resources on this topic. Judging by the number of results that the search engine returns, it is confirmed that this is a recurring issue which worries many.
I hope that my 4 ideas have opened new perspectives. I wish you all much love and good conversations for the coming festive days.
A warm hug and we continue in 2020!