bobbie smith

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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Interpersonal Relations--How to Have Difficult Conversations

Can you overcome family riffs, marriage troubles, difficulties in school or financial troubles through communication? You can if you use sincerity and patience to develop trust. Reaching out to people in your life is the beginning of communicating to overcome difficulty.

Calling or emailing a relative when least expected can have a powerful effect if the message and the action are fully sincere.

“Jane, hi, I just thought I’d give you a call. I know it’s been a while but…”

A conversation opener that is sincere opens a positive conversation. If you have a history of difficulty with your co-communicator, you may need to be patient.
“What are you calling for?”

Before you respond, think: Sincerity.

Remove tone from your voice. Ignore the tone in his/her voice.

Clear your messages of inflammatory words/phrases like: always, never, fault, blame, hate, stupid, ridiculous, etc… in other words, avoid saying things that can back people into an emotional corner where they feel the need to defend or fight back.

“I know I may have not kept in touch the way you might have hoped. I just thought I would reach out today and chat. Would that be okay?”

Even after you’ve removed all tone, all words that could incite powerful and negative responses, it is still possible to be challenged if the history has been difficult. In most cases, people will respond to a human approach, a sincere voice and a kind word. However, they may not hear it the first few times you issue the message.

Think of a marriage in trouble. The couple is used to sparring at each other over issues they have never resolved, or they passive-aggressively snip at each other about surface things but there’s a deeper divide. For example, Scott and Wendy constantly argue over clutter.

“Why do you have to always go on and on about the clutter? It’s not just my stuff that’s all over the place!” Scott is frustrated with hearing the same message over and over again. Just watch: Wendy will get upset by the word ‘always’.

“I don’t always go on and on, but I can’t seem to walk anywhere in this house without tripping over your crap. When are you going to clean it up?!” Wendy can’t stand stuff sitting around her house. It makes her feel like her home isn’t respected. She’s never really said that to Scott. She’s only ever nagged him to clean it up.

Maybe she’s not ready to talk about her deeper feelings or maybe she’s unaware of it herself. Self-awareness is critical for understanding what we argue about and what upsets us. Nevertheless, she could recommend something like baskets for Scott’s ‘stuff’. If she approached the challenge in a sincere way, she might try helping with a solution.

“Would it be helpful if I bought some baskets to put your stuff in? I just like the idea of a clean house. It relaxes me more, I guess.”

With no tone, no inflammation and with sincerity, Wendy might be able to convince Scott to put stuff in baskets, though he may be skeptical at first. Any change in how we communicate with others, especially loved ones will get attention. Scott may look at Wendy a little funny for a day or so if she eases off on picking at him and talks to him without all the huffing and puffing she normally does.
That’s where the patience comes in. People are human and that means you need to build trust. You can be as sincere as you want, but if you aren’t patient enough for your co-communicator to trust your sincerity, your efforts might fail.

Go ahead and try it. Reach out to someone in your life with whom you’ve not had a perfect relationship – that leaves everyone in your life – and see what happens when you sincerely and patiently talk to them or listen to them removing tone from your voice and ignoring the tone in theirs. Dig for the deeper message and communicate past your present obstacles.

Previously published on (now defunct)

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