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The Art Of Difficult Conversations

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Difficult conversations are two way streets.

Having hard conversations is part of life and yet many of us avoid them like the plague. They bring up vulnerability issues, past wounds and trauma, trust issues, and a whole gamut of unpleasantness. For better or worse, being intentional about having those hard conversations also opens up new opportunities for building trust, overcoming wounds, and being known. In the end that’s what most of us, if not all of us actually want.

Usually the hard part is just figuring out how to start those hard conversations.  We can spend a lot of time rehearsing the message, anticipating how the other person might react (which often involves the worst case scenario), and figuring out how to get through it with the least amount of damage done.  Typically, the above strategies just serve to build up the anticipation and anxiety regarding the conversation itself and doesn’t do a whole lot of good in actually getting it done.  It can create an illusion of control over something that we really have little to no control over–except for working on ourselves and how we react internally.

Three Tips for Having Hard Conversations

  1. State your assumptions and say, “I’m assuming that ____ is what’s happening.”  Making things up and pretending that they are absolute truth puts the other person in a defensive position.  When that happens, you get into a defensive position and both players lose the game.  Identifying key assumptions that you have will help the other person to say whether or not they are true and to shed more light on the matter while also opening the door for them to state their own assumptions.  From then on, it becomes a conversation versus a duel.
  2. Find the right setting.  Sometimes it’s not a good time for a serious conversation.  If there’s lots of other people around or distracting noises, it’s probably not the best setting.  Make it known that you’d like to have a serious conversation and ask when is a good time for the other person.  If they’re slippery in terms of nailing down a time, don’t be afraid to suggest a time.  Letting them have an element of choice in the matter of when and where can help set them more at ease and prevent the downward spiral of defensiveness.
  3. Start out on the right foot with your opening.  “I’d like to have a conversation about ____.”  or “I have something on my mind that I’d like to share with you and see what you think.”  Create a space that invites the other person to be present and positive.  Remember, no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.  If it doesn’t come from a place of compassion, positivity, and honesty then why have the conversation in the first place?  If you want the other person to give you some positive intent then you should also give them the benefit of the doubt that maybe there’s more to the story than you are aware of and that there’s more to that person, in all their complexity, than you know.

Remember, having hard conversations is one of the hallmarks of successful relationships.  It opens the door to grow towards each other in an upward spiral– even if the journey does, and should, have it’s own ups and downs.  Choosing to grow towards someone else is hard work because we are all constantly changing.  It helps to set the vision of “We vs. Me” in that we’re both in this together and committed to making it work, which means making it work better in the future than it is now.

There’s always a better version of us, our life, and our relationships in the future however, there’s a few speed bumps, traffic jams, and detours along the way.  You are responsible for your own happiness as well as the overall health of your relationships.  If there’s something that you don’t like or a boundary that is getting trespassed, it’s up to you to do something about it.  If you want something that you don’t have, and it’s a reasonable healthy and wholesome desire, then you’re the only one who’s ultimately going to make it happen or maintain the status quo.

If you’re stuck, then you might need a jumpstart and help gaining momentum.  Whether it’s something in the realm of relationships or your physical, mental, and emotional well-being, there’s always hope.  Here at the PTI, our goal is to be the best integrated mental health care provider around.  We have nearly every type of service that you’ll need and then some!  From screening and assessment to counseling to medication management, we have the doctors, specialists, and support staff to help with your personal turnaround.  If you or a loved one is suffering from mental illness, please don’t hesitate to give us a call today.

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