Tough conversatoins can stink, but they don't have to.
Not long ago I had to have a difficult conversation with a close friend. I had been putting it off. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, yet I was going to have to say things that were hard to say.
Every time I rehearsed the scenario in my mind I would begin to doubt myself. Maybe I was imagining things. Maybe I could continue to ignore what had been bothering me. Maybe I could just disappear and hope to never hear from her again (not likely).
The wiser parts of me knew that these were all excuses and tricks made up by the fear of my ego. Fear of what might happen when I have a grown-up, difficult conversation.
Would it get out of hand and turn into an argument? Would I get defensive? Would I even be able to say the words that were swirling around my head?
The next time you’re faced with (or avoiding) a difficult conversation, ask yourself these two questions to help you better ground yourself and see the bigger picture.
1. Why do you feel compelled to have the conversation?
Be sure that the motivation isn’t coming from a wounded or unhealthy place. Do you bristle at authority? Was your ego bruised? Is there a need to be right or to have the last word?
If any of these apply, your efforts are better spent addressing these issues, and save the conversation for a later date. Explore why your ego feels wounded.
Chances are, after you sort out a motivation that’s coming from your ego, you’ll no longer feel compelled to have the conversation.
Here’s a tip, if asking yourself why you need to have the conversation makes you feel defensive or argumentative, your motivation is coming from your ego, and not from your most authentic, healthiest self. Your ego is puffed up, ready to fight, and easily offended. Your healthy parts are centered, grounded, and rational.
At the end of answering this question, if you calmly feel in your heart that you need to speak up, then it’s important to have the conversation. Otherwise, tend to those parts of you that are hijacking the show and demanding attention.
2. Why have you been reluctant to have the conversation?
Is there a fear of rejection? A need to be liked or to be popular? A fear of losing control? A fear of hurting someone’s feelings? A worry that you don’t have what it takes or don’t deserve to speak up?
Getting clear on these insights will help you move past them. Fear has a great way of making you feel paralyzed. You can overcome these fears by asking yourself,
“If this was my best friend, what would I suggest she or he should say?”
Write down the answer and study it like a script to help you navigate your own conversation. Remind yourself that if this issue truly is important to you, you deserve to be heard.
Now, Get the conversation out of your head.
Maybe you feel aggravated with someone, or maybe you have to say something that could escalate further. Maybe it’s a job interview. Maybe you’re trying to write the perfect post or email.
You rehearse the conversation over and over again in your head. You try to come up with the perfect script. (And of course we’re so very clever in our own minds.)
Then the words come out of your mouth, and let’s just say it doesn’t go as expected. Sometimes it goes better that expected, and sometimes it goes worse, but who can tell what to expect.
Here’s a different approach. Take the conversation out of your head and bring it down to your heart. Just typing that made me take a deep breath. It felt soothing.
When you take a conversation down to your heart, it forces the ego to step aside. The ego likes to think it has all the answers, but it’s fighting for its own protection. Human thinking loves to chew on problems. The ego can chase those problems down dozens of rabbit holes.
The heart brings you back to the center.
A conversation that comes from the heart is more steady and more genuine. There’s an innate wisdom that resides within you. It’s a small voice that’s separate from the chatter in your head.
When you get down into your heart, it turns up the volume on your inner wisdom, and it turns down the volume on the chatter.
Use your brain for problem solving, that’s what it’s best at. Then use your heart to filter what it is you want to say.
If it feels hard to bring your communication down to your heart, focus on it first on your own. Hold your hands over your sternum while you imagine that your “thinking” is coming from inside your chest. Let your words flow from this space.
You’re going to see benefits from this shift.
If you’re prone to being perceived as anxious or aggressive, speaking from the heart smooths those edges. If you have to deliver a difficult message, you stand a better chance of being heard by the other person when that message comes from your heart.
When you speak from the heart you are calm and confident.
Speaking from your heart doesn’t mean your message is weak or flimsy.
Quite the opposite. When you speak from your heart, your message is grounded, steady and sure. There’s a quiet strength to it that’s pure and people see it.
When you notice how good it feels to spend more time in your heart and less in your head, you'll be hooked.
Quite often these conversations go better than you fear, and all parties can have a sense of relief.
If you deliver your message with clarity and respect, and if you avoid all attacks or name-calling, you can be at peace, even if the other person doesn’t react well. They’ll sort that out for themselves.
If you go off script and get angry or defensive, it’s important to make a simple apology for that, and get right back to your script.
Calm assertiveness is the state you’re in — ok I borrowed that part from Cesar Millan — but it works!
There’s a line to be drawn that separates voicing our every single complaint and making our thoughts known in areas that are important to us.
Exploring the two questions above will help you determine which side of that line you fall.
In the end, everyone deserves honesty, and as difficult as it feels at times, we owe it to ourselves and to the people in our lives to be honest.
Honest with them, and honest with ourselves.