Whenever anyone is behaving in a way that frustrates, disappoints or upsets us we have a choice about how we respond. We can:
a) Do nothing and smile serenely
b) Do nothing and inwardly seethe until you feel like you’re about to erupt
c) React immediately and shout/cry/rant/storm off (or all of the aforementioned)
d) Have an adult-adult conversation to tackle the issue sensitively
Repeatedly ignoring issues – from a partner who you feel isn’t pulling their weight at home, to colleagues who are unsupportive or dismissive – doesn’t make the problem go away. In fact often the longer we leave things the worse they can become.
Reacting immediately in either anger or upset can make us feel momentarily better. But this instant reaction can cause problems as it prompts the other person retaliate or try to defend themselves. Either way, we’re left feeling let down that nothing has changed and we may have made the situation worse.
The ability to have a calm and two-way conversation is easier said than done – but it’s worth trying. Not only are we more likely to see someone change their behaviour, we’ll also be healthier too. Research has shown that people who are able to talk about issues and problems in a constructive way have stronger immune systems than those who bottle up their emotions.
So, how do we achieve this?
The first step is in getting yourself in the right mindset.
First off identify who you want to talk to and why. What’s been going on and what impact is their behaviour having on you?
Then ask yourself how you feel about having this conversation? Do you feel anxious? Angry? Why do you feel this way?
Now imagine how you’d feel if you were able to have a calm conversation and their behaviour towards you changed. Focusing on the benefits can help motivate you to pluck up the courage to initiate the conversation.
Finally consider the worst/best scenarios. Most of us are very good at catastrophizing. We imagine all the things that go wrong e.g. the person will shout at me or not speak to me anymore. So indulge in that for a moment – go on, play a high definition film in your head of the worst possible things that could happen. Now, stop that film. That’s only one possibility. Imagine now the best case scenario – how you’d both feel if you had a really great conversation – let that film run in your mind for a couple of minutes. Most of us never even consider the best case scenario. Chances are when we have the conversation whilst we may never reach the perfect ‘Pollyanna’ version, it’s highly unlikely that it’ll ever be anywhere near as bad as we’ve imagined.
Now that we’ve got our minds sorted out, let’s look at a practical framework. There’s four key steps that we can use to help structure our conversation – whether it’s at work or home.
1. Provide the context
The simplest and often hardest part is starting the conversation. Let the person know what you want to talk about and check when would be a good time to have the conversation. Waffling around the topic can leave them confused and catching them off guard may cause them to become defensive. You could give them some time to prepare for the conversation; e.g.
• ‘I’d like to talk to you about x’ – is now a good time?
• ‘I’d like us to sit down and talk tonight about x’
2. Explain the specifics
Do your homework – what have you noticed someone say or do that has upset or angered you. Rather than throwing vague statements around e.g. ‘you never help out’ or ‘you’re so abrupt and arrogant’ get specific. What have you seen this person do, or heard this person say that’s led you to form this opinion e.g.
• ‘I’ve noticed that……’
3. Describe the impact
This is where you can talk about how their behaviour makes you feel. To make them really listen try and share how it impacts on something that they care about e.g.
‘The impact this is having on me/us/the family/my work/the team is ……’
4. Future Focus
Most people don’t like being told what to do. Plus they’re much more likely to make a change if it’s something that they’ve come up with themselves – so give them a chance to respond before you offer your suggestions e.g.
• ‘What can we do to prevent this from happening again…?’
Using these steps helps us to structure our message so that it’s well received and more importantly so that something changes as a result of the conversation. How you use the steps is up to you – you may want to get everything off your chest in one go. Alternatively use it as a basis for a conversation – remember there’s often two sides to the same story.