Difficult Conversations

I’ve just finished a book called “Difficult Conversations”*. I feel as if I’ve been given the key to a whole set of cupboards that have been locked for a long time. Here’s what is says:

Most of us put off having difficult conversations with our friends or family or colleagues because we are afraid of what might happen. What if the other person takes it badly? Reacts angrily? Ends the friendship? Fires us?

Difficult Conversations focus mediation blog

So the other person’s annoying or disappointing or insensitive behaviour continues to fester, and you continue to hold it against them. You either punish them with silence, or with crotchety attitudes, or you take the bull by the horns and accuse them of what they’re doing wrong in such a way that they feel pushed into a corner which they have to defend; they fight back and the whole thing gets confrontational and goes horribly wrong.

What is the point of having a difficult conversation? It’s not to create a fight. It’s to clear something up that’s getting in the way of a loving or friendly or constructive relationship. This book offers strategies for ensuring that, when you pluck up the courage to do something about the problem, you can engineer a positive outcome by following a three-stage pattern.

What Happened

You start by exchanging views on what happened, so that you can see each other’s version of events. The two accounts are often very different, which can shed light. The other person may tell you things you didn’t know about the background to what they did: something that happened behind the scenes that affected their behaviour with you.

How it made you feel

Then you can each describe the emotional impact of the incident. Here, you have to be careful not to accuse; instead, simply explain the feelings that arose in you as result of the behaviour. You each need to listen to the other and try to empathise with how they felt. If you don’t do this, those feelings of, say, resentment or loneliness will continue to colour everything: get them out, make sure they’ve been heard, and they will recede.

How it affected your opinion of yourself

Lastly, be open about how the incident or behaviour attacks your identity. You’ll need to have worked this out before you start the conversation. Did their behaviour leave you feeling you are a bad mother/husband/colleague? If those identities are important to you, they will be why you have been so shaken. So, let them know how important it is to you that you do a good job in that role and how you want to mend things so you can improve.

The learning conversation

Now you can see how you have contributed to the bad blood between you (because you’ve listened to what they’ve told you about what you did and how it made them feel), and you understand their contribution better. Ask them what they suggest you can both do from now on to improve matters between you. In other words, turn the conversation into an appeal for some shared proposals that will help you both mend matters.

The book is littered with excellent examples of Difficult Conversations; ones that need to be had, ones that go wrong, ones that work out well. There are numerous situations that ring bells, whether it’s in your marriage or with your parents, your children, your house-mate, your sibling or your boss. There’s practical advice and even some coaching. It’s succinctly written, very witty, very clear, and very wise.

If everyone put it into practice, there’d be no need for mediation!

* Difficult Conversations: how to discuss what matters most by Bruce Patton, Douglas Stone, Sheila Heen of the Harvard Negotiation Project.

Author: Caroline Friend, Family Mediator, Oxford.

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (11 Locations: Milton Keynes, Bedford, Broxbourne, Hemel Hempstead, London, Northampton, Oxford, Potters Bar, St Albans, Harrow and Watford).

Read more about family mediation at:  www.focus-mediation.co.uk

 

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