Up: Addressing Difficult Relational Issues
and influential people, happy couples and productive
work teams all share a common quality. They
all know how to speak honestly and frankly regardless
of how controversial or touchy the issue AND
they never do so at the expense of a relationship.
As Ken Blanchard said, "Honesty is telling
the truth to ourselves and others. Integrity
is living that truth."
many of us struggle to have those difficult
- yet important - conversations to address bothersome
issues. We try to hold our feelings inside but
most of us are not good enough actors to hide
them. The issues fester; eventually they are
expressed as sarcastic remarks, innuendos, moodiness,
and the silent treatment. "I was just kidding,"
you say, and the festering continues, since
the very idea of addressing an issue makes you
squirm. It just seems too hard.
Price of Avoidance
price you pay for putting off those 'difficult'
conversations far exceeds the discomfort of
having them. Not addressing issues and concerns
in your key relationships can:
following list of suggestions and techniques
may help you be more effective in engaging in
'difficult conversations' and in doing so express
concerns, wants and needs more fully
Sooner is Better than Later
In your key relationships, there will always
be issues that need to be addressed. By dealing
with them sooner rather than later, you will
prevent them from escalating into really big
issues and avoid stress and wasted energy. Some
people choose to spend weeks, months and sometimes
even their entire lives brooding about things
that could have been addressed through conversation.
giving voice to those issues that are niggling
(or gnawing) at you as they arise you are doing
yourself (your mental, emotional and physical
wellbeing) a great service and freeing up energy
for things that actually enrich your life rather
than drain it.
Sooner Isn't Always "Now"
Although it is vital you don't put off having
those difficult' conversations, that doesn't
mean that right now is the best time. If the
other person is in the wrong mood (including
being tired), or you won't be able to have the
conversation without interruption or distraction,
it is best to wait or schedule a time when you
Preface with What You are Feeling
the first stumbling block is starting a conversation
that you think will be awkward and uncomfortable.
If this is the case, try prefacing your conversation
with saying exactly how you feel about having
the conversation. Try simply sharing your nervousness
or discomfort. For example: "I'd like to
have a conversation with you about..... which
I've been putting off because I feel nervous/awkward
about it. But it's really important and so I'd
appreciate if you would be patient with me as
I try to express how I am feeling."
Listen and Understand
Before launching into your main concerns, first
try and understand the other person's perspective.
How do you think the other person views the
situation or issue? Are they even aware that
there even is an issue? For example, you may
want to say: "Before I say anything I'd
really like to get a better understanding of
how you feel about/ view
honestly trying to understand others, you will
help them feel valued, reduce feelings of defensiveness,
and encourage them to be open to hearing what
you have to say. Really probe to find out what
is going on in their minds so that when you
raise your concerns, you will take into account
their perspective. This will allow you to be
more effective at bridging the gap between what
you say, and what they hear (since the two are
often not the same).
most important thing to remember to LISTEN!!!
As multi-skilled as you might think you are,
you cannot listen properly if your mouth is
moving (we women have a particular challenge
here). Also, whenever you are communicating
with someone, your body language and attitudes
speak more loudly than your words. So avoid
casting judgment - which includes shaking your
head or rolling your eyes upward when you disagree.
listening to the other person, it is often worthwhile
to clarify what you've heard. You can do this
by reflecting back to them. For example, "Okay,
so correct me if I've got this wrong, but you
you don't get the recognition
you deserve/I am too uptight about things /I
expect too much from you at times
OR - "Let me play back to you what I think
I just heard."
Share, Don't Blame
Now is your turn to speak. Remember the point
of the conversation is to improve the situation
or resolve the issue - it is NOT to prove yourself
right and them wrong (as gratifying as it might
feel in the short term before your conversation
descends into a slinging match). A good idea
is to use "I" statements and avoid
"You" statements. For example, "I
feel hurt when I am not acknowledged for the
contribution I am making
" - OR -
"I feel a lack of respect when I am spoken
to as though I were not important." - OR
- "I know I can be sensitive but I can't
help but feel frustrated and hurt when I'm not
asked for my opinion regarding
Focus on Resolution
Because this isn't about blaming the whole situation
on the other person or reveling in your self-righteousness
(both which will get you nowhere fast), move
the focus of the conversation to the solution.
For example: "So given where things are
at here, what can we do to make it work better
for both of us?" - OR - "I'm certainly
ready to do my part and know we can work this
out. How do you think we will be able to resolve
It's okay if you can't find an ideal solution
right away or achieve alignment on your differing
viewpoints. At least the issue is out in the
open and not just festering in your mind. Ultimately
you are only responsible for yourself. If others
don't react as you would like, don't get upset.
Regardless of the other person's reaction, try
to make a commitment to one another to take
some action, however small, toward addressing
the issues you've raised.
Even if you are unable to immediately resolve
the issue (because often you won't), keep the
lines of communication open. If nothing else,
make a commitment to one another to continue
having regular dialogue about the issue until
it is resolved. This alone can positively change
the feel of your relationship.
Consider taking your conversation outdoors (weather
permitting) and enjoy a walk as you talk. Being
outside in the fresh air and open space can
shift the mood of the whole conversation to
be more open and engenders a greater degree
of expressiveness. Don't believe me? Try it!
Practice, Practice, Practice!
No-one is born with the expertise to address
difficult issues. Confrontation may always be
something that makes you feel uncomfortable.
The issues are touchy, the circumstances often
awkward and emotions often run high. It is normal
to stumble as you try to express yourself and
of beating yourself up about your inability
to articulate yourself or listen as well as
could have, decide to learn whatever you can
and commit to improving next time around. The
fact is that the skills involved in expressing
yourself effectively CAN BE LEARNED with ongoing
effort and practice.
Be Courageous, Speak Up!
You cannot have integrity in yourself or those
relationships which are important to you if
you if you don't have the courage to address
difficult issues. Sure, raising your concerns
isn't always easy and can be incredibly uncomfortable,
but doing so opens the window for those relationships
to grow stronger, richer and more rewarding
than they ever could otherwise.
with everything in life, it is ultimately a
matter choice... your choice! I encourage you
to make a commitment to being a person of integrity
in every aspect of your life, relationships
included. Doing so will allow you to move past
your fears and find the courage to give voice
to those issues standing in the way of you fully
enjoying your relationships - and your life
- as much as you would love to.
Warrell is a Life Coach, Writer and
Speaker and is passionate about helping busy
women enjoy more success and fulfillment in
their lives.As a mother of four she specializes
in helping working moms enjoy more balance and
less stress. To subscribe to her free newsletter
or arrange a complementary coaching session