In my early twenties I lived with my sister. After who-knows-how-many conversations with my therapist I had an a-ha moment (read: half baked, pseudo-psychotherapeutic rah-rah. On my part, definitely not my therapist’s). I decided it was high time I moved out.
I was OBVIOUSLY playing too much of a maternal role in this relationship. I needed to MOVE ON and MOVE OUT. I needed to forge an IDENTITY. It’s all a bit hazy now, looking back over the mists of time, but I seem to remember making most of these sorts of proclamations. Definitely in my head. Possibly out loud.
I sort of didn’t tell her, sort of hoped she’d just figure out that it was time for me to move out and live with a girlfriend, sort of hoped that approaching it all like this would work out just fine.
I don’t want to spoil the punch line here, but it did not.
We bickered and fought and argued about everything EXCEPT the fact that I’d decided to move out without actually sitting down and talking to her about it. I’d gear myself up for a conversation and within ten minutes we’d be off topic, tempers running high and with everything looking worse than when we started talking.
Welcome to communication.
Does this sound familiar? You’ve got a tough talk about a sensitive subject you know you need to have…but you kinda, sorta have it. Or you avoid it completely. Or you start with great intentions but pretty quickly it’s a he-said-she-said-you-said kinda deal?
Here’s what I see going wrong:
We stop interrogating reality
- No plan can survive its collision with reality, and reality makes a habit of shifting, at work…at home…in every relationship you have. Plans change, ideas change, we get new information. We’ve had the chance to sleep on it. But here’s the thing – people change and we forget to tell each other. You, me, them, us every single one of us is changing all the time. Not only do we neglect to share this with others, we’re masterful at masking it even from ourselves. Stay curious about yourself and the people you’re talking to. Make it your mission to find out what’s changed.
Using only 7% of the communication spectrum
- There’s a reason I write so conversationally on this blog. I want you to have some shot at hearing my tone of voice through my words. It’s why people do this !!!!! and this ?!?! and LOL and LMAO. Only 7% of conversation is what you say. The rest is how you say including pitch, pace and tone of voice plus some body language thrown in for good measure. Because tough talks are, well, tough we often think we can duck out of having them by sending an email. Or a text. Stop that. Right now. Face to face trumps everything. If you can’t meet face to face, at least the phone allows for the qualities of your tone of voice to be communicated.
Deciding how it’s gonna go ahead of time
- Start imagining what I’m gonna say, then you imagine what you’re going to say, sprinkle liberally with all the ways you’re making now very much like something that happened all the way back then. Add some (completely bullshit) beliefs about how you don’t like this and aren’t good at it and how it’s obviously going to end badly. Spread that whole mixture on a bed of “haven’t interrogated reality any time recently so I’m operating on assumptions I’m not even aware of” AND…GO! Yup, because you’ve already decided that it’s going to go horribly, you enter into the conversation with already braced for impact.
Outside-In vs Inside Out
- We’re picking our behaviors by either looking at what’s going on outside, or looking at what’s going on inside. And it’s really cool to see how this breaks down:
- Outside-in mode is about thinking of reality (yup, EVERYTHING) in terms of the outside. Gathering alllll your info about what’s possible based on what other people are doing.
- Inside-out mode is about gathering info from the inside FIRST. Not ignoring the outside world, just asking what you want, what you have to contribute, what you can make happen before looking to others. So choosing outside-in means looking for outside approval, info, permission, or safety before we make our own choices. And choosing inside-out mode is about deciding you’re ok ahead of time, and starting with what you have control over, first. It’s a choice thing.
I’m not even going to pretend it’s not. Choosing outside-in means you’ll use one set of behaviors (from seeking permission to pushing), and choosing inside-out means you’ll use another set (solution focused questions, self-regulating, contributing). And in tough talks, it’s extremely obvious who’s in outside-in mode and who’s in inside-out mode. It’s really easy to get into Outside-In mode when we’re in a stressful situation like a tough talk. That’s why it’s so important to remember the difference between the two modes. Guess which one will get great results?
When we spend a lifetime curbing our anger, our sadness or our frustration for fear of offending others, in the process we curb out joy. We cannot find the words to name what we love and why we love. We lose the ability to express our deep and genuine appreciation.
Healthy relationships require appreciation and confrontation. Rather than tell the person that matters to you “I adore you but I’m angry with you,” replace it with the deeper truth of “I adore you and I’m angry with you.”
I believe you deserve to have conversations that radically change your relationships.
For the better. Because our relationships succeed or fail one conversation at a time