Sometimes, we need to have difficult conversations. Someone is doing something that we don’t like. We need to address it in the hope of making it right.
It’s not easy to do. They’re not called difficult conversations for nothing.
But there is a way of doing it that is more likely to result in getting your needs met without conflict.
We can do it by avoiding judgement, sharing what our needs are, and making clear requests.
Some months ago, I went to visit my friends Eric and Gill. They live in Wales now so I travelled out to see their new place.
They took me on a day out to see the local sites. We bought a ticket for 4 hours parking. But we were back within the hour, ready to see somewhere else.
As we were leaving, another car entered the car park. Eric grabbed his ticket and gave it to the other driver. Thanks to Eric, he now had over three hours free parking.
Eric came back to the car with a smile on his face and drove off.
There are two things I noticed from watching this.
The first is why he did it.
He didn’t have to. Nobody had suggested it. There was no threat of shame or punishment. Nobody was guilt tripping him. There was also no hope of a reward.
He did it just because he wanted to. He gave from a natural place of wanting to serve another person’s needs.
Second, he enjoyed doing it.
Whenever others tell me about a good deed they did from that same energy, I notice that they enjoy it too.
Nobody ever says “A woman dropped her purse without realising it yesterday. So I picked it up and chased after her to hand it back. It was horrible.”
When we do it from a free place, it is fun to make a contribution to another’s well being.
As it is fun for us to meet another’s needs, it follows that other people find it fun to meet ours.
So long as nothing gets in their way.
One thing that will get in their way is our judgements about them.
Hands up who loves it when someone calls you a moron, or says your work is rubbish, or says that you’re a bad human being.
I have asked this question to hundreds of people in my training workshops. A hand is yet to go up.
Nobody likes this.
In fact, doesn’t it make you want to thwart their needs rather than meet them?
As they are calling you an immoral moron whose work is rubbish – are you hoping all their dreams come true?
Wouldn’t you happily sabotage them all if you could?
Yet we all share these judgements of other people, at least some of the time.
So here’s what we know so far:
1. It’s fun for others to meet our needs.
2. But if we judge them they want to thwart our needs.
How funny that we should follow a strategy that switches people from the first state to the second.
How better to get in our own way, as well as create needless conflict. No wonder difficult conversations are so difficult.
A better way is to simply share what is happening, without the judgements.
The purpose of showing the other person what we don’t like is so we can request something different instead.
We’ll never get to that request if we end up having a fight instead.
Judgements inevitably bring that fight.
“No I’m not.”
“You’re an idiot.”
“No, you’re the idiot!”
“I’m not horrible. You’re the horrible one!!”
Conflict happens instead of the fun bit. The fun bit is meeting each other’s needs. But we don’t get to that. We trade pain and hurt instead.
We wage war over who is right.
I saw a TV documentary recently. It was about the Crown Prosecution Service. It followed one of their top prosecutors, Eran Cutliffe, as she worked on some important cases.
Eran is blind. So whenever there is video evidence, a colleague watches it with her, and reports what is happening.
It is important that Eran’s colleague just report the facts.
It is no good if she says to Eran: “There’s a horrible man here being vile to everyone.”
There’s no information in that. Just judgements.
Instead, she would report only what she saw, without her own interpretations.
When you begin a difficult conversation, this is your best strategy too. Report the facts.
Your job is to strip out any judgement of the other person. Not to be nice. But because their natural state is to find it fun to meet your needs.
Why would you switch them away from that at a time when you most want those needs met?
Most conflicts, whether interpersonal or full scale war, are stuck in a place of trading judgements.
“You’re so lazy” brings defensiveness and conflict.
“When I notice that the dishes are dirty….” opens a conversation that is free from blame.
You are now able to share the impact of that. You can tell the person what emotions you feel. You can share the unmet need inside you. You can help them to understand why this is so important to you.
By skipping the blame and judgements, you allow an intimate, honest conversation about what you need.
And remember, it is fun to meet your needs unless your blame and judgement gets in the way.
“When I notice that the dishes are dirty I feel sad because I need your love and support. It would mean a lot to me if you would be willing to wash the dishes before I get home.”
Wow. Isn’t that different to “you’re so lazy!”
The difficult conversation is transformed into a moment of genuine connnection.
More than that, it is a gift to the other person. They now have an opportunity to make a contribution to your well being.
And as we saw earlier, that’s fun. You’ve sidestepped a fight, and you’ve given them a chance to have some fun.
It’s simple. Yet it’s not easy, especially when emotions are high and you feel the pain of the situation.
So go easy on yourself. You won’t pull it off every time.
But when you do, you’ll find that the world is a better place. You’ll build connection instead of conflict.
You’ll get your needs met a lot more, and those around you will have lots of fun doing so.Alun Parry is Director of The Liverpool Psychotherapy Practice