Basics rules of communication that help people stay on track are simple, but not easy. If that sounds familiar, it is because if you’ve read any of my blog posts, I’ve said it before. So today I’m talking about some basics that I find myself repeating to my therapy clients, frequently. I’m writing about ways to manage your difficult conversations. We all have them….those conversations that we dread, or that we wish we’d never have to have, or that we avoid until we are about to blow up. Today I’m talking about how to avoid the avoidance, how to prevent the blow ups, by dealing with things and communicating effectively.
Here is my first rule: Never tackle difficult conversations when you are unwell, over tired, or overwhelmed. When a person is not at their best, they simply are more vulnerable and less able to be assertive. This is not the correct time to take on a challenging conversation. If you are unwell, over tired, or overwhelmed, (or you could be all of these at once, they often go together), please, please, please do not attempt a difficult conversation. You will likely forget most of what you know about handling yourself in an adult, calm, and rational way. It’s just the way we humans operate. We all have more trouble dealing with stress when we are already maxed out. So make a note to yourself to put this challenging conversation on your to do list, then go and do what you need to do to take care of yourself. When you are rested and feeling more pulled together, you can tackle this with more skill and confidence.
Rule #2: Never agree to a difficult conversation when you are unwell, over tired, or overwhelmed. Rule #2 is the flip side of rule #1. Unless you are a hermit, you likely live or work with people who may approach you with a concern or issue when you are not at your best. Just like you decide not to initiate these conversations in rule #1, you also can make a conscious choice not to participate in one if you recognize that the timing catches you in a vulnerable state. So, your spouse comes home from work and is angry, and approaches you saying, “Honey, we’ve got to talk about some issues, NOW!” You are exhausted, you were up all night the night before with your sick child, you had a bad day at work, and now you feel like you are coming down with the flu. What do you do? You say, in your most assertive, calm, and rational voice, something like this, “I hear you, that you urgently want to discuss some critical issues with me. I wish I was feeling up to that, but right now, I just can’t manage a rational conversation. What I need is to get a good night’s sleep, and get well. I will let you know when I’m able to manage this conversation.” The key here is to not put off your partner indefinitely, because that destroys trust. You must make yourself available to have this conversation as soon as you are reasonably able to manage it.
These two rules alone can contribute to fewer arguments, misunderstandings, and explosions. If you can manage to do this consistently, and manage to respect the need for others to take care of themselves in their times of need, you are setting the foundation for more effective and productive conversations.
Next week I will talk about how to keep conversations in the adult frame of mind. This naturally limits things like criticism, condescension, name calling, attacking, and the responses to these which are rebellion, defensiveness, and hurt feelings. If you recognize that your relationships are suffering from ineffective communication patterns, and you think you could use some one on one professional help in learning to communicate more effectively, call me at: 831-214-8087. I would love to connect with you and help you to help yourself.
I hope you take time to take care of yourself, and have many pleasant conversations in the coming days.