We all have had a moment when we want to say something difficult to somebody we love but we doubt whether to open the Pandora’s box or avoid a confrontation. Especially with people we love and care about, it can be quite frightening. We are afraid that we might upset their feelings, hurt the relationship and scar something precious to us for life.
However, an open communication is one of the main characteristics of a healthy relationship. Opening up to say things that hurt us, worry us, concern us or make us feel heavy is needed to live an open and free-spirited life. When we bottle our feelings and ignore them, they stay there building up tension until they get out of our system one way or another.
These are 7 steps that you can follow to pop up the conversation.
1. Before the talk: be clear of the message
Before you do anything, make it clear to yourself what you want to communicate, why you want to bring this up and how it is making you feel. Overall be specific on the main subject you want to discuss and do not leave room for assumptions. This clarity will keep you focussed on the topic and will avoid the conversation getting derailed into other details that are not relevant to the message. You can try writing this up, recording a voice message, or going over it in your head. This will also bring serenity to your speech when you go for it.
2. Think of the goal you want after the conversation
Think of the way that you want to feel after. Do you want to feel heard, understood and have actions being taken? Or do you want to feel drained, frustrated and with no solution to the matter? The difference between them is the clarity about the resolution you want. If your aim is to make the other person feel guilty, I suggest that you rethink the purpose. Start with the goal of the conversation and the change that you want to see in mind.
3. Speak instead of text or call
Social media times have made us reliant on digital communication. When you share a discomfort or pain to a loved one it is more intimate and courteous to have a face-to-face conversation. Other forms of communication may seem impersonal. Your loved one could interpret this as a lack of interest or regard for their feelings on your behalf. Always share things that you think or feel in person.
4. Start with reasons why you value and love that person
Starting a difficult conversation on a positive note can always lead it to a good conclusion. They will be reminded of why they are in your life, the value they add and appreciation you have for the relationship. You can also mention the positive things they do for you and how they make you feel loved. This will also ease up both of your attitudes and open up an honest and calmer setting for the conversation.
5. Always remember that you are half of the story, therefore talk only about your half
By this I mean talk from your perspective of things without making accusations.
For example: If it bothers you that he doesn’t lay down the toilet’s seat, say: I feel frustrated when I find the toilet seat up. Instead of: I hate it when YOU leave the toilet seat up.
The first one is a statement from your perspective and the second one is an accusation. Accusations are aggressive messages and they may be answered in the same manner. When the word YOU is used the other half of the story is being attacked without having set room for it to be understood or explained in the first place.
You are the owner of your emotions, and only you are responsible for how you feel. However if somebody’s actions are causing these feelings, most probably that is not their intention, and it is not their goal to make you feel this way. A non-judgemental and non-accusational conversation is the only way to find a resolution.
6. Tell them what they can do to alleviate the way you feel
This is where you share what they can do for you to alleviate your concerns, worries or feelings.
Returning to the example above: You can voice that they can put down the toilet seat.
Don’t leave a conversation without stating what the other person can do, look out for or change in order to release the tension. If this is not voiced, your loved one will feel frustrated about not knowing what to do.
Remember again that you are only half of the story. Others cannot guess what you need or want. You need to voice it. Do you want someone to ask for forgiveness? Do you want a habit to be changed? Do you want someone to understand you? Always state what you want. Do not leave that responsibility to the other person.
7. Practice gratitude
Chances are that the conversation ends up with you realising that you have someone in your life who truly cares, and is willing to change things, perspectives or habits for your wellbeing. Voice your gratitude towards them. That conversation may have brought you closer together.
Have you experienced a difficult conversation before? Would you have benefited from these tips? Let me know in the comments below.
Chiara is the Melbourne-based founder of CIIARA.