Time for a new approach.
“Discontent is the first necessity of progress.” – Thomas Edison
I have talked with many people over the years who have a tendency to avoid addressing concerns with others. Usually when we get to the root cause I will hear something like, “Why should I risk starting an argument when things aren’t too bad?” In fact, this does make a lot of sense. Even if things aren’t great it’s true that they could be made worse. So, without the communication skills to address issues effectively it is understandable why so many people resort to sweeping things under the rug. The problem with this strategy is that the short term gains are outweighed by the long term damage to the relationship. When relationship issues aren’t addressed they don’t usually go away or get better on their own. Instead you are left with a feeling of discontent that is often felt (but rarely understood) by the other person. The effect over time is a feeling of distance that grows between you and the other person. Over many years as multiple issues compound the distance can cripple and eventually destroy the shared bond you used to enjoy.
The most common reasons for falling into this pattern are a history of failed attempts to communicate that have resulted in painful fights, or a lack of learning how to address issues when you were a child. If you grew up in a home that didn’t allow for any point of view that deviated from that of the dominant parent, then you couldn’t have learned how to honestly and directly talk about a concern. “Because I said so” is a very effective statement, but it is not very instructive. With this in mind I have outlined below a step by step process for dealing with issues proactively, and in a loving way.
The first step of addressing any issue is to know exactly what the problem is and what it means to you. Often discussions will get off track before they have a chance to accomplish anything because the message being shared isn’t clear. When you don’t present a clear point it can cause confusion and frustration that devolves quickly into argument. To avoid this mistake take time to consider both sides of the coin. Be sure you know what is bothering you and why. Also, it may be helpful to have a few possible solutions in mind, or at least a plan for where to go for help.
When you are ready to initiate the conversation remember that time and place are key. If you have kids make sure they are occupied and will not interrupt. Turn off the TV, set phones to silent, and sit somewhere that you can comfortably face each other to make direct eye contact. Make it known that you will give and want to receive undivided attention. Simply stating that you have something important you would like to discuss is a good idea so the other person is aware of your expectation.
Establish Positive Intent
Now that you have their attention it may be the case that you also have them a little bit on edge. If this method of direct communication to address issues is not the norm in your relationship, then setting a positive tone before getting to the heart of the issue is imperative. A phrase beginning with “Because I love you and value our relationship I want to discuss . . . ” will show that your hope is to mend or improve things with the ensuing discussion. Not to start a fight. Whether you are addressing your spouse, child, other family member, or friend, showing that you value the relationship will get your talk started in the right direction.
Share the Facts
As you describe your concern use statements of fact rather than opinion. This does not mean to avoid talking about feelings. If it is a fact that you feel hurt by someone, then go ahead and say it. An easy way to avoid opinion statements is to be sure you don’t start a sentence with “I think . . .” or “I assume . . .” as these can only be followed by your point of view. This will inevitably lead you off track. When you stick to the facts you will give a short and clear description of the issue you want addressed.
Even the best communicators struggle with this step. Rather than beating a dead horse by making your point 20 different ways you may find it’s actually more effective to just stop talking. This will give the other person time to think, process, and continue the conversation in a clear and friendly manner. When you go on and on trying to prove your point it is usually seen in one of two ways: as a sales job, or as bullying to get your way. Neither of these will promote careful or reasonable consideration, but will likely lead you both away from resolution. So, this is a case where less is more. Share your thoughts, and then wait for a response.
Hopefully this style of initiating important conversations will yield positive results. You may even find over time that this becomes a natural and normal way of addressing issues. You may not always get exactly the solution you hope for, but at least things won’t be swept under the rug to fester. Communication is one of the most vital parts of any relationship. Being able to communicate effectively when addressing negative issues will bring more happiness and closer bonds.