We all have arguments and disagreements. It seems to me in the past, we have decided to stop having uncomfortable conversations because they typically go wrong. Here are ten skills that you can start incorporating into difficult conversations right away. I believe they will help us all have better difficult conversations.
- Seek to understand the other person’s emotions (and your own). For as much as emotions infiltrate our actions and conversations, it amazes me how little attention we give them. When you can begin to understand your emotions and the other person’s emotions, you can respond to them. This allows your response to be more complete. It gives you a better opportunity to answer them holistically.
- Talk about what you believe. So often, we want to talk about why the other person is wrong, rather than talk about what we believe. Focus on what you believe in the conversation. Talk about why you believe it. Don’t get stuck in a battle nit-picking points of disagreement. If you are talking about what you believe and striving to understand what the other person believes your conversations will improve. In this situation, you can search for areas of agreement rather than focusing on disagreements.
- Measure the cost; Do you value relationships or being right more? What is more important to you? Being right or the relationship. Most of the time, I believe we should seek to solve whatever the problem(s) are and protect the relationship. There are times, where we have to be willing to risk the relationship and there are relationships that we probably should end, but the majority of our disagreements will be with people who we want to stay in relationship with. Therefore we have to measure the cost and the potential cost of what we are doing. Sometimes, it is good to walk away. Sometimes, it is good to dig in. Wisdom is needed in such situations.
- Seek points of agreement. As mentioned in skill number 2, we should seek points of agreement. So often we agree with a person on a majority of issues, but we focus on the minority of disagreements we have with a person. To have intimacy we must fight against our cultural propensity for all or nothing thinking. If everyone agrees on everything, someone isn’t needed. Perhaps, it is in our disagreements, that we can find true intimacy.
- Avoid using inflammatory words. I would think this would be obvious, but it isn’t. There is never a reason to be unkind. There is never a reason to be mean. We don’t have to use words that are attacking to discuss and debate our ideas. So many times, we use words that we know are designed to hurt or fan the flames of anger. To be good communicators we must resist this temptation.
- Understand there is a difference between hurtful and harmful words. Sometimes, we need to hear words that are hurtful but we should always attempt to avoid harmful words. Telling someone that they are engaging in an activity that needs to change can be hurtful. Attacking who someone’s being is harmful. I once was talking with a woman who had been dating a man for about eight years. Her complaint was his lack of ambition and maturity. When I asked her if she ever told him about her concerns, she emphatically said no. She didn’t want to hurt his feelings. But without risking hurting his feelings, how would he ever become aware of her frustrations? Most likely, in unhealthy ways.
- Be willing to be wrong. Again, this one seems fairly obvious to me. Be willing, no be ok with being wrong. How else will we ever grow in our understanding of things if we are not willing and comfortable with being wrong? How do you make changes without first admitting you were wrong?
- Look at the bigger picture. So many people are willing to fight over things that they don’t even remember a short time after the fight. We need to be people that see the bigger picture. Who do you want to be? If you’re standing over the other person’s grave or facing your own does the argument you’re having matter? If not, why does it matter now?
- Expect all emotions in the conversation to run amok. Just plan on it. Emotions are like plastic bags caught in the wind, they often float to and fro throughout numerous conversations.
- Verify your information. Please make sure the information your sharing is accurate. I know this is both frustrating and hard in today’s world. So much conflicting information out there and figuring out who we can trust is incredibly hard but it must be done.
If you’d like to hear the podcast version of this, feel free to search The Joe Martino Show in your favorite podcast player.
Joe Martino is a counselor with Joe Martino Counseling Network. He has locations in Lowell, Grand Rapids, Greenville, and Grandville. For more information about Joe and his business, check their website or Facebook page. He and the rest of the counselors and staff are eager to help those in need.