Delicate conversations are never easy. I still slip up sometimes because, well, I’m human. But when people in a relationship improve their communication, I see how powerful just a few shifts with the lips can be.
I regret not having more skill in talking to my mother before she died. I grieve her death and the lack of closure at the end. I could have connected with her better by using a few of the tools here. So, this writing is my legacy. I believe skillful, genuine conversations can help change the world.
How do you do it? First, figure out your intention. And make it a wish, like “I want to repair our friendship,” or “I want to stay friends after our divorce.” Intention is something that helps set the stage for a difficult dialogue. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of intent.
Second, say what you feel and need. If you use a “YOU” statement it will ruin the entire conversation. It makes people defensive, so just use “I” statements. The “I” helps you understand your own deeper self. As you explore your fears, hurts, old beliefs, and needs, you learn about yourself. Try to identify the deepest wound you have touched (“I’m sad we don’t spend much time together; this reminds me of my relationship with my dad.” Or “I feel overwhelmed at work, I miss you.”)
Finally, state your request. Make it doable. Maybe something like, “I want to talk more, would mornings or Sundays work?” Or “I’d like to have more fun, maybe a date night on Fridays.”
If you’re rolling your eyes at this point, just think about how well-intended dialogue is urgent. It’s not a slick, new age idea. Genuine communication empowers community, individuals, couples, families, or co-workers. Without connection we can’t move forward.
Blame never works (well, OK, maybe a little bit ) but without safety people won’t open up. Fight or flight is our first impulse. The body gets flooded with emotion when triggered. Regulating our responses is like managing a team of wild horses. Take a deep breath but don’t disappear without saying when you’ll be back. And, if you forget everything else, at least be curious about the views of others. Manage your reactions with respectful listening. Practice mirroring back what you hear others say instead of inserting your own arguments or opinions.
I understand, it’s hard and that’s why we have a world in discord. Sometimes I just want to say, “Screw it” myself, but this old globe needs safe places for people to be heard.
Children who don’t feel heard – who are cut off from self-expression – learn to be silent as adults. Re-directing our anger, having a voice and listening well could create working relationships – it would change the planet. Thich Nhat Hanh says: “We live in a time when there are so many sophisticated means for communication: email, telephone, fax, yet it is very difficult for individuals, groups, and nations to communicate with each other. We feel we can’t use words to speak and so we use bombs to communicate.”
This life is like the big leagues. The Warriors are showing focused teamwork and that is exactly what good relationships take: teamwork. You can’t build bridges with a sledgehammer.