No one looks forward to having difficult conversations. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard someone say, “I can’t wait to tell my friend how upset I was with what they did last week!” But, having said that, I’ve found that difficult conversations have the potential to strengthen your relationship with others more than most things. Many of you won’t believe me. If you don’t, then I’d encourage you to read part 1 of this blog post series because how we perceive these types of conversations makes all the difference in how they’ll turn out. If you view them like war, then don’t be surprised when they end up like war. But, the good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way. Besides our perception, here are the final two things to keep in mind to help have a healthy difficult conversation.
2. You’re Wrong
No matter how angry you are, you’re probably not as right as you think. There’s the old saying, “It takes two to tango.” No matter what the issue is, you probably contributed to it in some way. Maybe you didn’t clarify your expectations. Maybe your expectations were too high. It’s possible something you said or did led the other person to react in a certain way that hurt you.
When my wife and I were first married I masterfully turned any issue she had with me around to make them somehow her fault. One day, in the midst of an argument she blurted out, “WHY CAN’T YOU JUST BE WRONG?” I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t realize what I was doing until she brought it to my attention. There are few things more difficult in life than just. being. wrong. We say things like, “We want to be understood,” but what we really mean is, “We want to be right.”
If you are having a talk with someone to restore your friendship with them, then the two most powerful words you can use are, “I’m sorry.” Just say those words and let them be. Don’t add, “But….you also need to understand…” JUST BE WRONG!! I’ll say this again, if you are serious about restoring and healing your relationship with someone, even in the midst of telling them something difficult be ready to just be wrong.
3. I think, I feel, it seems, I noticed
You are probably not a mind reader (If you are, that’s pretty awesome!). You can’t know what the person who disappointed you was thinking. If you assume they did it on purpose, then I’ll assume you won’t have a healthy relationship with that person for very long. Negative interpretation not only hurts friendships and work relationships, it kills marriages. Research has identified negatively interpreting your spouse’s actions as one of the few behaviors that consistently kill a marriage.
When you approach a potentially challenging conversation, it’s important to go in with humility. The only thing you know for certain is how you think and feel. So, instead of saying, “Why did you…!”, try saying, “It feels like…”, or “I’ve noticed recently….” Speak in short sentences and give the other person space to clarify and explain. Be ready to hear their explanation, believe their motivation, and accept their apology.
Before you have a talk with them, pointing out their mistakes, first remember your own. You mess up. You forget sometimes. You say the wrong thing and are imperfect. When you mess up, how do you want people to treat you? If you enter a conversation with humility, remembering your own weaknesses, there’s a much higher chance the other person will be willing to admit their mistake to you.
Summing it up
I heard a story recently about a 2nd grader’s basketball game. There was one kid on the team who refused to play. Every time it was his turn to go in he pleaded with the coach to keep him out. As the game ended the child’s father rushed from the bleachers, ready for war, and immediately began yelling at the coach for not putting his child in the game.
If you want to rebuild and restore a relationship through a difficult conversation, then you need to remember you’re not as right as you think you are. Be ready to apologize and just be wrong. You don’t know what they were thinking, so don’t assume. So, because of all this, enter your conversation with humility.