“We have to talk…” These four words are some of the most feared because they do not usually bring good news. However, before we get to utter them we have gone through days, months, or even years of conflict and hesitation.
Without a doubt, speaking is not only necessary but essential, especially when things go wrong. Shutting things up usually doesn’t solve anything.
However, do you know what is the mistake that we usually make when we are torn between talking seriously with someone or keeping quiet?
Do not asking “What for?”
The goals of difficult conversations
When things are not going well, we have stopped feeling comfortable in a relationship or something is simply bothering us, we wonder if we should broach the subject, especially when it is a difficult conversation that can open up old wounds or even create a certain distance.
On many occasions, while we are debating whether to open Pandora’s box or keep it closed, we focus too much on what we feel, what we would like to say or even what we want the other to change while we lose sight of an important detail: the purpose of our conversation.
Sometimes, we decide to swallow the words because we think it is useless since the chances of that person changing are zero. Other times, negative thoughts overwhelm us so much that the conversation turns into a crossfire of reproaches. And in other cases we simply open our mouths to say things that we later regret.
The solution to avoid these situations is very simple, although we are rarely able to see it and put it into practice: ask ourselves why we want to have this conversation. It is about setting a goal, as we do in other areas of our lives.
For example, imagine that something bothers you about a person and you wonder if you should tell him. What for? What is your goal with that conversation? The most common reasons are summarized in:
1. To change his behavior. Most people who decide to enter into a difficult conversation do so hoping that the other person will change. However, these expectations are not realistic because we cannot force anyone to change, so often this conversation becomes a way of putting pressure on the other, which ends up hindering any possibility of understanding.
2. To express what you think or feel. Sometimes people also decide to tackle difficult conversations in order to put their cards on the table. In that case, the goal is not so much about bringing about change as it is about expressing underlying discomfort or making a position clear.
3. To feel better. People can also broach a topic simply because they need to talk about it to release pent-up emotional tension. In this case, the conversation assumes a cathartic nuance as its main objective is to relieve contained stress, anger or frustration.
4. To find a solution. It’s by far the most reasonable goal to face difficult conversations, especially when you need to address a latent conflict or a difference in worldview. In this way we do not feed false expectations pretending that the other will change, but we raise the desire to reach an agreement, which implies that we are also willing to compromise and give in.
Change of perspective: stop focusing on the other to focus on the “self”
It should be clear that, as long as a conversation is respectful, all the reasons that lead to it are valid. Sometimes we know that the chances of finding a solution or that the other will change are few, so we simply need to express what we feel. There is nothing wrong in it. In fact, certain difficult conversations are more about us and for us.
Sometimes it is enough to express what we feel and think. This frees us from the emotional burden we were carrying and makes us feel more comfortable and calm, because we have finally managed to express what was happening to us or we have made our position clear.
So the point is not to ask whether or not we should have that conversation, but to clarify our goals. The key is to be aware of that “What for?”. Ask ourselves what it could bring us and visualize the benefits.
In a general sense, saying what we think and feel tends to facilitate relationships. Expressing what we dislike or annoy, as well as highlighting what pleases us and generates joy, provides others with a kind of “relational map” that allows them to more fluidly navigate our expectations, needs, and priorities.
Shutting things up is usually a mistake because all the tension, anger and dissatisfaction that we feel can continue to grow until it makes us explode in the worst way. Instead, expressing them assertively conveys an important message: We know what we want and we are not willing to let the others cross our red lines.
Talking about what worries us, makes us uncomfortable or hurts has a healing effect. Dare to address these sensitive issues is also a message addressed to ourselves: We are telling ourselves that we take care and protect ourselves. We are telling ourselves that we can trust ourselves because we are aware of our needs. In the long run, our inner child will thank us.
Approaching difficult conversations by shifting the perspective from the “other” to “me” can be profoundly revealing because instead of wondering how the other person will take it, we wonder how we’ll feel if we talk. Instead of obsessing over the other person changing, we ask ourselves what this conversation will do for us. Instead of wondering what he will think of us, we ask ourselves if we are being true to ourselves.
Being clear about our objective before starting an important conversation can make a difference, because it will help us communicate more calmly and with more realistic expectations. Deep down, we must not forget that it is about expressing our perception of the world. No more no less.