Many of you asked me how I gave up being a nice-aholic, which I talked about in a previous blog titled Is Your Kindness Killing You? If you’ve been following my writing, then you know I had a bad habit of not saying what I really thought in some important relationships and then ended up suffering the consequences. I had the habit of getting into conflicts or disappointments with people and then complaining to my friends or coach about it, while not saying what I really wanted to the source of my frustration – all of which lead me to being increasingly unhappy about the whole situation! I used to have a weird experience of feeling right or justified about complaining. But this approach really took me far away from dealing with the real situation in front of me.
That’s until I learned what I could do about it. There were discrete action steps my coach taught me that enabled me to just take a deep breath, get clear about what I wanted and tell the truth in a clear, honest way. Funny enough, I became able to talk to someone with whom I was having a conflict without creating more problems. I avoided conflict externally, but I also suffered from internal conflict – and learning how to be fully expressed changed all that.
The concept of “balancing grace and wisdom,” as my coach put it, was a new concept to me. Growing up in my family, there were only two choices: blow up or stuff it – neither of which was a healthy choice any more.
What do we mean by “grace”? We mean communicating in a way to others so that they really want to listen and hear what you have to say. For me, it meant doing the mental, physical and emotional preparation for the conversation so that I was calm and cool and could say what I was experiencing without blaming the other person or exaggerating about what had happened. It also meant being open to the fact that I may not understand everything about the other person’s perspective and that I must ask for their perspective, and then listen to what they said. My coach taught me to repeat back what I was hearing to confirm that I understood and to give them a feeling of being heard and understood. This actually works great!
What we mean by “wisdom” is that I had to say the whole truth of what I thought. This was really hard for me, because either I was afraid of hurting someone or afraid they would be upset with me. I was used to pussy-footing around things. So, saying it all straight to their face took some practice. I still think through difficult conversations before I have them – to make sure they go well and I say everything I need to say. Turns out, it’s a lot easier when the conversation is framed positively, set-up in advance and I am under the assumption I am going to learn something.
Here are the basic steps I follow when designing any difficult conversation:
- Get permission. This is part of grace. You have to ask the person if it’s a good time and give them the freedom to choose if and when they have the talk with you. Already this sets them up to want to talk or at least be open. Or if they’re not, you won’t speak yet and you’ll be protected from another blow up!
- Explain the situation/context and your goal. This is also part of grace, setting up why you want to have the conversation and what you hope to achieve by having the talk. If you don’t have something positive to say here, you aren’t ready.
- Apologize for your role. Another way to truly put your listener at ease is to own your part in the conflict upfront. It’s disarming and helps make the other person feel like you aren’t simply pointing fingers.
- Describe your concerns. Here is where the wisdom part kicks in! When you start with grace the other person wants to listen to your perspective. It’s even okay if you have to read from notes. Use phrases like: “This is what it seemed like to me” or “in my experience,” or even “I could be wrong, but what I remember you saying was X.”
- Ask for their perspective. And listen. Here grace comes back in again. Maybe you are misremembering or you don’t understand why they did what they did. Here is where you can just directly ask: “How do you remember it?” or “What am I not understanding” or even “What do you think happened and why?”
- Decide on promises for the future. Here is where wisdom comes back in. A lot of people get so relieved simply to have said what’s on their mind that they forget the power of structure and accountability. The people in the conversation have to ask themselves “how are we going to prevent this from happening again?” and then agree to certain commitments going forward.
It’s simple, but not always that easy. It takes practice and believe me, it does work. If you know what’s in your way of fabulous relationships with certain people, learning this skill will be invaluable.