What if I don’t know how to talk during this pandemic? Lindsay Hall, MSW

*(the examples provided below are composite cases, synthesizing disguised information and not any patient in particular)

Meaningful relationships bring love and joy to our lives, but they can also bring hardship and disagreement. When facing a conflict with someone you care about, you might feel tempted to ignore it because of the discomfort you’d feel addressing the problem. Or maybe you tend toward confrontation, determined to let the person know how they’ve impacted you and how you feel about it. While yelling matches or giving someone the cold shoulder can feel satisfying in the moment, it does not lead to a satisfying resolution. Whether you’re negotiating curfew with your teenager, discussing political and moral stances with a family member, or are trying to solve a dispute with your partner – these are some tips to help facilitate a healthy dialogue.

Set norms and expectations for the conversation. Most difficult conversations are ongoing, not a one-time discussion that quickly solves the problem. If it could be addressed and “fixed” so quickly, it would not be as difficult to talk about! Set aside enough time for everyone to discuss, and start with some “ground rules.” Some examples to get you started include:

  • Make the purpose of conversation to learn from each other, not to solve the problem right away.
  • Assume positive intent from each person in the conversation. This will help keep the conversation respectful, especially if negative emotions arise.
  • You may challenge the other person’s actions or position, but not attack their character and personhood.

Listen to truly hear the other person. When we feel passionately about something, we often focus on getting our point across, regardless of what the other person might have to say. This can lead to us listening only to formulate our response – not to actually hear their point of view. One way to practice better listening is to slow the conversation down. Instead of rushing to say your piece and interrupting each other, let one person “have the floor.” Listen to what they have to say, then repeat back what you heard. This gives the other person the opportunity to confirm that you have heard them correctly and to clarify anything you may have misinterpreted.

Invite, don’t attack. Think about the type of response you want from the other person. An attack prompts defensiveness from others, while an invitation to share their experience prompts an explanation. When you disagree with someone, try to approach them with curiosity rather than judgment. You can start to do this by asking open-ended questions, which require more than a “yes” or “no” answer. An easy way to remember open-ended prompts is to ask questions beginning with how, what, why, who, and when.

“That isn’t what happened!” becomes “How do you remember what happened?”

“That doesn’t make any sense” becomes “Can you help me understand your point of view?”

Be open to learning something new. People don’t form opinions without a basis: they are usually formed through a combination of cultural norms, research-based facts, opinions passed down from others, lived experience, word of mouth, and early education. Over time, we may learn that we have been misinformed or lack information that is central to sustaining our beliefs. Be open to discovering the cracks in your foundation and working with those around you to build a more solid base.

 

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