Happy Valentine’s Day! Let’s get right into it: hard conversations are a part of life. We all have them! It’s common to feel fear, anxiety, and dread in anticipation, and it’s also common to bring those emotions into a conflict.
Unfortunately, if we’re being guided by fear, we might not be able to communicate our best intentions. So how can we set aside our fears and prepare ourselves for productive and compassionate conversations? How do we ensure that we don’t fall into a dead-end conversation? How do we navigate arguments with love?
Stella Breytman has provided some critically important tips that will prepare anyone for a difficult conversation and help to make sure that they’re prepared to communicate effectively, listen, and be present.
1. Take time to process before jumping into a conversation. It’s especially important in conflict to spend some time sitting with your feelings on your own. If you don’t do this, you risk processing in real time, which can look like dumping your raw emotions onto the other person. Make sure you are in a clear state of mind, process how you are feeling without being under any influences. It’s important not to have a difficult conversation until both individuals are present and ready. If you are too angry or emotional, give yourself time to process how you feel. Allow the other person to do the same.
2. The “I feel” statement. Using “I feel” statements keeps the language less accusatory because it centers how YOU feel. This language asserts your experience without accusing the other person. It encourages the other person to listen to how you feel rather than to argue with you. Try saying “I felt angry when you did x” instead of “YOU made me lose it.”
3. Figure out what your intentions are. Are you looking to resolve an issue? Are you looking for answers? Or are you looking for a fight? If you are too angry, it’s better to wait and process how you feel before diving into a potentially painful conversation. Trying to communicate when you are being guided by anger or aggression can quickly escalate to an argument or fight. Instead, always try to speak from a place of compassion and truth, not defensiveness or anger.
4. Reacting vs Responding. Reacting immediately to another person’s actions or words leaves little room for effective communication and effective listening. Instead of reacting, try to respond: this means you need to take the time to process what was said. Responding thoughtfully lets the other person know you heard them, you’re listening, and you care about what they have to say. Try repeating what you heard back to them: “If I understand you correctly, you are feeling x. Is this accurate?” You are responding directly to them, rather than dumping your immediate reaction onto them.
5. Do not tell the other person how they feel. Do not assume you know or understand what the other person is going through. Do not make statements like “YOU feel like I am sitting around doing nothing when you have all of these responsibilities, meanwhile… etc.” Unless the other person has specifically told you, this is how they feel.
6. Notice when the conversation becomes cyclical. If you can’t agree on who said what and when, drop it. If it’s clear that both people in a conversation remember the facts differently, do not use this as a conversation point, find something else to help the other person understand how you feel. Agree that there was a miscommunication and move forward.
7. Put yourself in their shoes. This one may be hard, but often were so blinded by our defensive stances and emotions we do not even take the time to consider how the other person may be feeling. Setting our stance aside and letting the other person know that you agree with part of how they’re feeling creates empathy in the conversation and may encourage the other person to do the same.
8. Take responsibility for your actions. Empowerment comes via responsibility. If you want to walk away from a difficult conversation feeling empowered, you need to take responsibility for your mistakes. This can look like apologizing, being accountable for mistakes you made, pledging to correct harm you caused, acknowledging that you may be wrong. Remember that apologies aren’t signs of weakness. Accept that this isn’t the first or last time you will make a mistake, accept that it’s a normal part of being human. Be responsible enough to own your actions.
9. Be honest. If you cannot communicate honestly, despite how difficult or what you have to come to terms with, do not bother having the difficult conversation in the first place. Ask yourself “what is the worst that will happen if I tell them exactly how I feel?” Maybe more issues will come to light, maybe that means the other person will be hurt, maybe it means they won’t talk to us for a long period of time. Maybe you will finally have to come to terms with something that’s been bothering you for a very long time. Until you lay it out like it is, you don’t give a true opportunity to work through effective communication and the foundation from which conversations begin will not be stable.
10. Tell the other person ways that you appreciate them. If you’re having a conversation with a close friend, spouse, or even a colleague, make sure to let them know, though you may have differences in opinion, that you appreciate them for XY and Z. Feeling appreciated goes a long way and encourages positive behavior.
Prioritizing love and compassion in conflict is important if you want to build solutions, trust, and seek closure. Showing up ready to have a productive conversation will tell the other person you are present and emotionally available. For Valentine’s Day, let’s all try to remember Stella’s advice and move forward with love in mind.
Written by Stella Breytman / edited by Allie Haggerty and Clara Zornado