Based on conversations I have been having with a lot of different folks, I’ve been thinking about an Idea that I read about quite awhile ago in Fierce Conversations: by Susan Scott.
The book has 3 “transformational ideas” one of which is that “The conversation IS the relationship”. While there are a lot of other terrific ideas in the book, this is the one that I keep coming back to and that has been resonating for me both this week and over the past couple of months.
I keep hearing stories from friends, relatives, associates about relationships running into hard times, leading to arguments, business dissolutions and divorce. In each of these instances an important conversation has not or is not taking place or the conversation that was taking place has withered on the vine. Conversations do that sometimes. They die. The sad thing is that when conversations die, or stop happening, or just don’t happen, the relationship linked to those conversations soon follows suit.
I don’t have a magic bullet for this death of conversation, but I do have some things that I think are relevant to keeping conversations going. Some of this may be loosely paraphrased from Fierce Conversations but with my own little spin on it. I am a Fierce believer though, so in owning the process… well, I want to give credit, this book has changed and influenced my thinking like few others have.
1. Be honest, first and foremost with yourself. Nine times out of ten, the conversations I tend to avoid most, require that I face one of my own demons before I tackle the conversation. I have to face my own selfishness, arrogance or ignorance (my top three) before I can honestly communicate with another person. Honesty is not only about confronting our own issues, but it also have to do with actually HAVING the conversation. Hiding what is on our mind is really a deceit and counter-productive in having a good communicative relationship. A simple example… If I want fish and chips for dinner, but I tell my wife “I don’t care what we have for dinner” because I don’t want to talk about it, I am not being honest. I am avoiding a conversation which is really running away from the relationship on some level. If I truly don’t care what we have for dinner, I should probably articulate that in a positive way. And if I do care, I better say so and be ready to have that conversation.
Similarly, it seems to me that, if you have an expectation and you never share it with the person for whom you have this expectation, you will find that your expectations are most likely going to go unmet. This may be a form of dishonesty that will lead to trouble. Example – She expects that he will take her out on a date every friday as a way to spend time together but she never tells him that. It just happens that for several Fridays, dates are the norm. A month and a half later, he makes fantasy football plans on Friday with his buddies. She gets angry. He asks what’s wrong and she says, “nothing” but is not happy. He is clueless about why she isn’t her normal happy self but figures the Friday fantasy football gathering will give her the time she needs to get over it. She has an expectation and has not shared it. He doesn’t ask any clarifying questions. No conversation happens and the relationship takes a hit.
2. Be patient. I know that sometimes when someone is honest with me, I tend to want to jump to conclusions or get defensive. I think Patience here, is really taking a moment to completely receive the conversation, breathe and then ask questions or rephrase what you have heard, before trying to defend or argue. If the conversation really is the relationship, the conversation is worth a little extra time and understanding to do it right.
3. Try to keep the person and the issue separate. We often make the person the issue by using blanket generalities to deflect from the issue that me may have to own a part in. “Why do you ALWAYS do…” or “You NEVER listen when I…” are phrases that make the person the issue rather than the problem at hand. If the issue is that The other person spent their paycheck on lipstick and a hairdo instead of paying the electric bill, it is better to get to the issue, how to make sure the lights stay on, than to say something like, “YOU ALWAYS mess up our finances and we’ll NEVER get ahead if YOU don’t knock it off.” Here’s the thing, there is probably another conversation that should have happened long before either of you ever got to this place. Handling money is something too many people don;t talk about enough and I have a hunch that it is a significant driver in the high divorce rates we see in the country today.
My gut tells me that everyone could benefit from reading Fierce Conversations. It gives strategies for making decisions and confronting issues together in conversations that are designed to improve the relationships in which they are happening. To that end… if you would like a copy of the book for the cost of mailing, I have one I’d be glad to send out. Comment below if you are interested.