We live in a day and age when topics abound that are not easily talked about or, we might say, welcomed. In such an environment, it can help to prepare ourselves for difficult conversations, planned ones or ones we may "fall into". It is helpful to have some practices that build one's "difficult conversations muscles".
is the title of an article I immediately felt enthusiasm to share because it focuses on a very common fear in initiating and sustaining difficult conversations. We can plan to have a difficult conversation; very often we just find ourselves in the middle of one that we might not have intended. In either case, we can relate to what the author describes: "Once the swirl of an argument starts, it can be difficult to find your way back to connection. You might feel angry and scared and want to protect [your] needs for understanding, respect, and consideration. Habit energy can be like a runaway semi truck going downhill. The brakes burn out and you find yourself escalating into defending, attacking, or blaming."
The fear of escalation can be a barrier to having difficult conversations that, nevertheless, can enhance our learning about important matters of politics, religion and society. The fear of escalation can deter us from finding connection with one another in spite of our differences. The author suggests writing down a few "go to" options on something you can keep handy for easy reference. Here are some of the author's suggestions, with some edits, that I particularly recommend:
Ask Questions to Get to Needs:
What's most important to you/ to me right now?
There is something we are really caring about. What is it?
What are you wanting me to really understand?
Give me a minute to process [think about] what you just said.
You said (repeat what the other just said). [Did I hear correctly?]
[Suggest taking a break for a few minutes.]
Name Your Feeling:
I feel disconnected.
I'm feeling defensive.
Name What's Happening:
I notice I just blamed you.
I'm defending myself.
I'm thinking you are judging me.
Use Pattern Interrupts:
ay something you are grateful for [or appreciating in the moment].
Take the conversation to another room or go outside.
Plan a sign or key word with the other person to signal disconnect.
It's always helpful to take three slow breaths before saying anything else, particularly at the moment we sense we could be heading to the downhill slope like a runaway semi! Here's to some skilled driving through conversations about difficult topics!