How to have a conversation about something that matters
A talk that moves us towards agreement is different to other conversations we might have. There’s the end of workday debrief. The making plans conversation. The times when you’re having fun connecting. The I’m-just-letting-you-know-because-this-will-impact-us-in-some-way chat. But let’s talk about a unity building chat. It might get tense or heated as you walk through an issue but if you undergird it with love, kindness and plenty of generosity you can get on the same page about anything.
The pre-cursor – set it up
Set the stage. Firstly make sure you have enough time and space. Make sure the kids are in bed or out or you’ve told them you’re unavailable for a while. I know, good luck right? But you don’t want to arrive at a critical point in your conversation and have to cut if off and leave things hanging because you only gave yourself 15 minutes to fix something that’s been on your mind for 3 months. Carve out enough time. Head out for coffee or dinner or grab a lounge at home and settle in. Chocolate is good too.
Internal or external processor?
Sometimes you need to make a time to talk especially if you are time poor or you haven’t processed your thoughts on what happened yet. “Can we talk about this tomorrow night babe?”
In our early years, I would always want to talk about things early, even immediately… but Beck wouldn’t. She’d brood for a few days and wouldn’t open up about whatever happened. It would kill me! Eventually, we worked out that we were different in how we processed things. I’m an external processor and I process as I talk things out. Beck is an internal processor. She likes to get her thoughts together first then talk when she knows how she feels and what she thinks.
This was a game-changer for us. I learned to ask questions and set a time in a few days to discuss it. She learned that she didn’t have to brood and punish me for days before we’d resolve it. Win-win! How do you process things? There’s a fair chance you are the opposite from your spouse. That’s ok. Embrace it and use it.
Start the chat with some kindness
We have a code we use when we need to chat about something. We say, “In the interest of open communication…” and immediately we know that there’s a chat coming. It’s become a lighter way to enter a serious conversation these days because we’ve been using it for so long. But there’s a real level of kindness attached to an opener like this. Straight away your spouse knows there’s something important that’s coming. They are given a little moment to gather themselves. When Beck says this to me I know she’s giving me a window to prepare… and sometimes to brace myself! When you begin with kindness you create a good expectation that you’re about to work something out as a team, even though it might be difficult to hear.
Sometimes we can’t work out how to say something. So we ask permission to be blunt. “Hey, I’m not sure how to say this so I’m just going to say it blunt ok?” Again, kindness. You’re couching the conversation with gentleness, generosity and your own humanity. You’re allowing your spouse to adjust their expectations so they can take what you’ve said appropriately.
Talk it out
Open up. Be honest. Keep the kind spirit while you talk. Let the conversation flow back and forth between you. Your goal, remember is UNDERSTANDING and being TOGETHER about the topic.
You’re not fighting each other. Super important to remember. You’ve discovered an area of disagreement or pain or dysfunction and you’re talking about how to get on the same page in this area.
This is more difficult of course when there’s hurt or offence involved. When this is the case, calmly explaining how you are feeling is super helpful. Use this to help:
- I felt…
- When you…
- I expected…
For example: “I felt sad when you didn’t defend me in front of your mum yesterday. I expected you to say something and let her know that wasn’t ok.”
This helps remove pointing the finger and escalating the chat into a fight.
How to listen like a boss
Listening isn’t an art. It’s a skill that anyone can develop. And if you listen well you’ll be in a good flow with your spouse. The key is to listen to understand. Not to listen for a break in the conversation so you can release your next glut of wisdom. Listening well means I’m leaning into what the person is saying. And I’m hearing what’s behind what they’re saying.
Recently a friend of mine was talking about an argument he had with his wife a couple of years back. Halfway through the argument, she realised that he wasn’t fighting her… he was just scared. On the surface they were clashing but she could see there was something going on underneath. He was worried about something else and it was surfacing like this.
Listening is giving them our attention and focus so we can understand. The best way to listen is to ask questions that help you understand better. “How are you feeling now about it?” “Is there something we should do?” “What happened next?” “Is there anything I can do?”
Something I’ve started saying, which I’m SURE my wife LOVES is this. “Tell me more.” No timeframe. No rush. No phone. No screen. No kids… well… sometimes no kids! Lean in and ask for more info. Even if they’re over telling the story. Even if you’ve heard too much. Listen. Listen to understand. Listen to love.
Listening is essential for agreement and therefore unity.
- Put your phone down.
- Turn towards them.
- Make eye contact
- Clarify anything you don’t understand.
- Repeat important things back to them and give them an opportunity to correct you.