Courageous Conversations with your Partner

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August 3, 2018

So, you are approaching conflict.

Finally, you are face to face with this person with whom you have a problem.

Before this, you ignored that there was a problem. This is denial

Then you just hoped the problem would go away by itself. This is delusion and wishful thinking.

Then you hoped this person would fix it from their side. This is avoidance.

Maybe you got angry with them when they didn’t fix it. This is passive/aggressive.

You talked to friends or even a therapist about the problem and the problem person. Not all of them took your side. This was disappointing. How on earth do you get the courage to speak if you don’t have an army of supporters at your back?

Then you waited for the right moment. And waited. And waited. This is procrastination. The “right moment” is largely an illusion.

You have thought a lot about what to say, how to frame the problem, how to begin. This gets you closer to a confrontation. But not quite close enough. This is more avoidance.

Meanwhile, the storm clouds gather…….and you feel resentful. Resentment says you really have waited too long.

Now, here you are, face to face. You open your mouth but don’t know how to begin.

This is where you need a process that will allow you to express yourself clearly, gather your thoughts logically, and present your point of view. It will still be scary, but you’ll have a structure.

When you approach conflict with your partner you both grow stronger.

Courageous Conversations

I am indebted to Dr Michelle Mulvihill, and Australian psychologist for this script for approaching conflict. I have based this 7-step process on her work. You can use it in business settings, as well as with your partner and friends.

First of all, here are the Seven Steps:

1. I’d like to talk to you today about…..” (Clarify what the issue is. You’re taking the big step and presenting yourself and your issue.)

2. “For example…..”(Give two recent examples, specific and identifiable by both parties.)

3. I feel…..” (Here you describe how you feel about the situation, about yourself, and about the other.) Notice you are using “I” language. You are not blaming or criticising.

4. There’s a great deal at stake here. What’s at stake is…..” Or, “This is important to me because…” (Be specific. If you realize the issue is multifaceted, then reduce it to one specific area.)

5.Perhaps I’ve contributed to this situation by…..” (Identify your contribution – this must be genuine!)

6. This is what I want to resolve with you today. I want to resolve…..” (Be specific about what you want to resolve, and your commitment to this)

7. What’s your take on this….. How do you see it?” (You really want to hear what they have to say, to respond, to contribute!)

Here’s a hypothetical example of how you might apply the seven-step process of Courageous Conversations when approaching conflict with your partner or anyone else.

1. “Francine, the reason that I’ve invited you for coffee is to discuss a difficult issue. The issue is that when I lend you things, you don’t return them”. (Gulp!)

2. “For example, that book by James Hollis that I loaned you a year ago, and your haven’t returned. And then there was the baking tray that I brought over for your birthday that I haven’t seen since”.

3. I feel pretty shaky about our friendship when these things happen. I enjoy being generous, but I feel sort of taken advantage of. So I pull back a bit, and I’m wary to loan you things again”.

4. “It feels as if our friendship is at stake here. Or at least friendship as I would like it to be with you. A friendship of trust”.

5. “Perhaps I’ve contributed to this situation by not reminding you often enough, or not being clear enough that it was a loan not a gift”.

6. “I’d really like to clear this up as soon as possible, so we can go on with the fun of being friends. Our friendship is really important to me”.

7. “Now I’ve said my piece, what is your take on this? Have I missed something?”

When to use Courageous Conversations?

Relationship Doctor courageous conversation

You can follow this process of approaching conflict over the phone, via email, and certainly in person. This is a short process, with one or two breaths for each stage. Don’t be long-winded! It is a very workable process for relatively small issues, with a contained agenda.

I often do a much more extended version of Courageous Conversations when I work with couples, when the issues are much more deep-seated or complex.

In my example, I’ve set the scene for approaching conflict with a friend, acquaintance or service provider rather than an intimate partner. Often it is easier to learn how to front up with a courageous conversation with someone you know less well. Then you can proceed with your partner in confidence that you have a process that will help you get to the difficult issues.

This Tip relates to  Managing Conflict with your Partner.

And You are the Strong Silent Type and now she wants you to Talk!

Copyright © Kaye Gersch 2017

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