Having difficult talks with a positive outcome… Not an easy feature.
I often give the following list to people who have to have difficult conversations in a relationship under pressure (a love relationship, a working relationship, a friendship relationship or a therapy relationship).
This list is therefore also useful for coaches / therapists (not only to improve their own conversation techniques but also, for example, for their clients if maintaining relationships is a point of attention in their sessions).
(Relationship) Conversation aspects:
A- 5% truth (get the sting out – incl. apologize, accountability)
B- Feelings and emotions (their feeling, your feeling)
C- Inquire if the content came across, clarify, feeling, behavior)
D- Valuation (conditional / unconditional)
These communicational aspects are something to practice with customers with, for example, if there is workplace stress or relational stress. And one can safely assume that the relationship will not be optimised in one go, so you can choose to practice the different aspects, one after the other in different conversations. I always say: make sure that all elements (A, B, C & D) are included in in your response, and chances are the conversations are going in the right direction.
People often say that “communication needs to be improved” as a first reaction to relationship stress.
As an integrative relationship coach, I am not too fond of that remark because in our view commitment comes before communication. People can communicate according to ‘all the rules’ and still not really communicate or even communicate nasty and villainous. Often because they’ve not committed to a relation, not committed to a clear relationship to their partner.
(Oh and about love-relations, please do not read “monogamous” here, there is NO difference with a committed polyamorous or otherwise non-monogamous commitment)
I often give the following list to people who have to have difficult conversations in a relationship that is under pressure (a love relationship, a working relationship, a friendship relationship or a therapy relationship). This list is therefore also useful for coaches / therapists (not only to improve their own conversation techniques), for example for their clients, if maintaining relationships is a point of attention in their sessions. These communication aspects are something to practice with customers with, for example, workplace stress or clients with relational stress. You can assume that the relationship does not optimize in one go, so you can also choose to practice the different aspects one after the other in different conversations. I always say: make sure that all elements (A, B, C & D) are all included in in a response in difficult conversations, and chances are that those conversations will going in the right direction:
A – The 5% rule
In addition to the 95% ‘hot air’ and often even outright ‘bull shit’ (at least in your ears) that someone pours over you from their irritation because you don’t seem to listen ( 😉 ), there is almost always 5% truth in the things people tell you …
If someone really tries to “wash your ears” (as we say in Holland)… then apparently he has a great need that you listen to him …Hans West
If you hear that and pick up on it, and if you do not defend against the 95% hot air nonsense, then chances are that you get the sting out of a misunderstanding, that someone suddenly hears himself and yell less loudly at you… Maybe someone’ll even say, “Sorry, I could have said that nicer…”.
Also read more (in Dutch) about:
(and most importantly: how to get out of it ).
But even if that is not the case: there is a greater chance that someone will stop supplementing their truth with loud noise (in your ears) if you let the message come in.
Another thing is that you then have to look to:
- Apologise You can of course apologise if you really think so. Or if you see that your partner needs apologies to calm down, maybe. If you can both say “sorry” to make the other person feel like they are worth it to you… then maybe relationship is worth more than being right?
“Sorry I hurt you by saying (…) I didn’t realise that when I said it.” This doesn’t mean you have to apologise for everything, or have to agree 100% to what is said…. But that 5%… apologise for that 5% (without any “yes but you”-‘s, or “but for 95% I think…”-‘s)
- Take responsibility Taking responsibility when you get blamed (especially if you ment wel fur or you don’t know exactly what happened), then you are often better off. I often say:
Being in debt is no fun. But taking up your debt is always much better than being on the recieving end of a debt…Hans West
And then try to indicate what you really intend to do differently in the future (not from guilt, but from your own conviction that you want it differently for yourself). Otherwise you’ll get just as sorry-culture as seen in current politics without taking any true responsibility.
B – Talk about feelings and emotions
We regularly skip it to talk about our feelings with each other. But we only start looking for solutions or opinions when people are actually largely driven by their feelings (so a tip would be: give words to feeling (dutch text).
And being emotional, we tend to loose our relational capabilities (especially in the field of commitment).
The Relationship sandwich:
If you have difficult feelings, or difficult issues to discuss, it can be useful to apply the relationship sandwich conversation technique:
1 – Our relationship
2 – My Problem / issue
3 – Our (relational) solution or goals
Putting your personal problems in the context of the relationship makes it easier to discuss them relationally.
- Recognize (name) feelings in the other
You also take the sting out of a conversation by naming the feelings of your conversation partner. “I see / hear / think / fantasise that you feel angry / scared / sad / shameful / guilty” (I just mention the more negative basic emotions and the SS of the social emotions as an example).
Express the emotions you think you hear or fantasise the other person has. That gives your conversation-partner the feeling that the expression of the feeling has succeeded.
If you cannot recognise any emotions or you seem to guess wrong al the time, ask what the emotions are about the current topic(!) of your conversation (and try to stick to the content of one topic… not everything has to be said/ settled right away).
Also do that if those emotions are difficult for you. “I think you see that you’re angry”, that will probably get a lot more anger out of the air in the long run than you just not saying anything about it because of your fear of stirring it up.
- Emotional Expression of Yourself
Actually it is quite simple (mind you, i falter too in my own life): a sentence that starts with “I feel (a bit) …” and then that is followed by a word that describes an emotion immediately followed by a point -as in end of sentence-. So do not use words like “stressed” or “bollocks”. Do not use a thought disguised as a feeling, such as: “I feel it’s your fault” or “I feel we’ll never get out of this”. These are opinions, not emotions!
And it is also very important that you do not expand with commas and subordinate clause. If you start to use many words, the expression of the feeling is lost.
No, these sentences soon come to an end! So leave out any “but” or “and also”…
A feeling-sentence like “because you do X, I feel a little annoyed” is really a very different phrase than “I am a little annoyed because you always … and also … and last month already … “
C – Ask / inquiries
Asking for content is almost always a good idea to have a conversation in a constructive direction (because that is often what people will want to talk about -even it is seldom the real reason of the tension-):
- Ask for clarification, if you have understood everything, if more can be said about it, if you please want to repeat what I said so that I know if I have told you clearly, if do you want to add to the content (that is always an important question in a conversation: “Can you say more about that …”)
- Asking for feeling. Ask if you have properly understood, saw correctly or fantasised correctly the feeling that your message has given to the other person (because everything that has not been said may have been seen wrong or fantasise incorrectly) “What did you feel that moment? “ or ” What do you feel about this now? “
- Optionally you can ask for a behaviour change: “Would you like this a bit more ‘this’ or ‘that’ next time …” (an option palette is often a good idea – but more about that elsewhere-).
It is good to feed your genuinely curiousity about what someone is saying by asking about the three levels of any relational conversation:
- substantively (check whether your conversation partner has the idea that you substantively understand what they are about) and also
- the emotions that the other one has on this subject (ask whether your conversation partner has the idea that you understand which emotions play with them on this subject), and lastly
- the Relation ask the conversational partner if they think that you get what this talk means for the relation you both have.
D – Value
It is important to keep hitting a positive tone, especially if the relation is important. That is why it is never a bad thing to also value the other one actively (at least choose 1 out of 3 from the next options in your part of the conversation). Choose one that you sincerely believe, so as to not to be ‘plastic’ in your conversations:
- to appreciate what someone does
You can always express appreciation for things that someone can do well, has done well. That is conditional appreciation, as in “I like what you make/do/show me.”
- to appreciate the relationship
You can always express what you like about living together, working together, being together. “I think you’re a nice conscientious colleague”, “I think you’re sexy/kind/intelligent”.
- to appreciate the person
You can express why you think someone is a beautiful or a nice person (unconditional appreciation). “I love you/ I think you are a beautiful person/ You are a loving person/ I like to be with you. etc.”
These are all topics that can be discussed… better said: they are all aspects that you can better discuss if you want to have a good conversation with someone about a difficult topic on in such a way that that conversation will also give you a feeling that you have completed things. You can almost assume that conversations that tend to repeat over and over again when someone somewhere has missed at least one of the above aspects (perhaps because you’ve been so busy ‘doing it right’ that you get the harder was busy with your own image of a ‘good conversation’ than that you were really interested in the above aspects).
There is no fixed order (although it is usually often useful to start with either recognition: naming the feeling that the other person gives expression or the 5% aspects) but they are all parts of a conversation that make conversation worthwhile. And let’s be (sure when it comes to interviews): you have the time! After all, you didn’t plan on getting out together? So then you can also practice each of those parts separately by paying more attention one by one over time, just to make your conversations run better.
West-Coaching.nl -TEAM & Integrative Therapy (Petzold)-