This is our bread and butter, really. “How to talk with others” is the shorter version of the title (and is way more general). However, we’re keeping it specific because, while some people struggle with basic conversation (for a variety of reasons), others struggle with bringing up and/or talking about hard things. For the sake of this post, we’re using “hard things” as interchangeable with “issues and problems,” as lots of people feel that way.
So, let’s talk (<- get it). ;)
There’s a very simple and basic structure to having a difficult conversation. And, I know, I know - you probably already know this. Just humor me, yes? My guess is that you wouldn’t be reading this if you were putting the (simple) formula into practice.
To make it easier to understand, let’s go with an example (which is all made up). John is upset with his father, Randy. John is celebrating his first Father’s Day and invited his dad, Randy, to dinner to celebrate with him. Randy declined, saying he’d rather stay in and watch golf. John keeps inviting Randy to do things, but frequently gets turned down and this was the final straw.
How should John approach this (if at all)?! Let’s dive in, shall we? *One thing to note is that these all come with caveats. So don’t just read the list, make sure to read the details.
- State your feelings.
Simple enough. You should LEAD with your feelings. Rather than approach Randy with criticism and say, “You always let me down!” John should say something to the effect of, “Dad, I’m hurt and disappointed about Father’s Day.”
Yes, yes, I know what you’re thinking. “But Tara, that’s the same thing!” Sure, on some level, it is. But imagine the first phrase being said to you and tell me that you don’t feel a little bit defensive and then want to counter with, “I don’t always let you down! I was just over there last month!” And sure, the second phrase could (will, depending on the person and situation) evoke a defensive reaction, but it’s less likely and what is there to argue with? I mean, John is, literally, just stating how he feels. He’s not being accusatory or blaming his Dad. Owning his feelings is a healthy move.
- State the situation.
This is done in a ‘taking ownership’ way. It’s not a “you did this and you did that” sort of way. In essence, this is the description of John’s subjective experience. Subjective because maybe Randy had no idea his wanting to stay in and watch golf would even impact John at all. John should say something like, “I’ve invited you over about four times in the past month and you haven’t stopped by yet. I know you’re busy and I respect that. I’ve tried to accommmodate your schedule and I was hoping Father’s Day would be the perfect day to spend some quality time together.”
Okay, so John is verbose and articulate. Stop judging him. ;)
Well said, John! He nailed it, really. Nothing is wrong with saying “you” if (big “if”) it’s not followed by an accusatory statement. Describing a situation often involves other people, and thus the language of ‘you.’ Just be really intentional with how it’s said.
- State your needs.
Ah, lastly, John’s needs. This is my favorite part. Basically, just because John states his needs doesn’t mean Randy has to meet them.
Read that again because it’s key.
Just because John states his needs doesn’t mean Randy has to meet them.
Okay, you might be thinking, “Then what’s the point?” The point is to finish a full thought and description of your internal state and needs. And the further point is that you can’t expect people to even attempt to meet your needs if they don’t know what they are. The short version is that it’s to clarify your needs for the other person.
An example of this would be John saying, “Dad. I really just need to know that you care and, honestly, I need to see you more often.”
And there you have it. So, let’s string this all together to get the full effect.
Dad. I’m hurt and disappointed about Father’s Day. I’ve invited you over about four times in the past month and you haven’t stopped by yet.. I know you’re busy and I respect that. I’ve tried to accommmodate your schedule and I was hoping Father’s Day would be the perfect day to spend some quality time together. Dad. I really just need to know that you care and, honestly, I need to see you more often.
Again, imagine somebody you love saying this to you. I hope you’d react with an internal softening and an, “Oh my gosh. That’s not what I meant or how I feel! I’d love to see you more, too!” But maybe not. Of course, if you’re uncomfortable with this whole thing and don’t know how you’d actually do something like it? Well, there’s always counseling. ;)