If you are having difficulties in a relationship, you know that you need to have a conversation to resolve your issues. And yet, if you are anything like the rest of us, you really don’t want to.
In my Art of Tough Conversations workshops, right after I lay out all of the benefits of talking through difficult issues with people in your life—clarity, intimacy, opportunity, leadership, and even money—my clients’ immediate reaction is to fight me for why they shouldn’t have to have the conversation. Yes, sometimes we are just more comfortable “hating on” someone than finding our love for and forgiveness of them. And yet anyone who has gone through a difficult, vulnerable conversation with someone to sort out what went wrong and restore the relationship knows it’s worth it.
Yes, you have to let go of control and push through fear, but on the other side is everything you want from relationships.
You’ve probably noticed that in order to be ready to have one of these conversations, you have to be “safe to talk to” or else it will blow up. One of the most frequently asked questions in our workshops is: “How do I get the other person to want to listen to me?” We’ve found that it really helps to acknowledge and apologize for your side of the issue FIRST! It takes two to tango, right?
So I have developed a list of the most popular ways in which you may play a role, without even knowing it!
I’ve been guilty of all of these in the past myself. The key is to catch your role, cop to it, and giggle. That way, others will want to engage with you in discussing sticky issues.
1. You assumed something to be true, and it just isn’t.
For example, you think your colleague at work is just not interested in putting in the required effort on a project you share. This may not be true. Maybe she just sees what’s required and how she can contribute differently than you do. Wouldn’t it be nice if she could read your mind and know what you expect her to do? Unfortunately, that isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Maybe we should stop wishing for mind reading and learn to speak up and ask for the other person’s perspective, too!
2. You are holding the other person to a standard you could never meet.
You ask yourself, “Why can’t s/he just…[fill in the blank: show up on time, be honest, do what he says]?”
Ask yourself: Do you completely practice what you preach? One tricky thing about us humans is that, sometimes, we hang around people who have the same bad habits we do, but theirs are a little worse, which makes us feel a little better. The truth is that we’re actually peas in a pod.
You might be doing exactly what you accuse the other person of. Maybe your husband seems to be shutting you out. But might you, too, have stopped giving him what he wants or likes, like praise, appreciation, or sex? Possibly, you’re shutting him out, too. Oh, the irony of what we hold grudges about!
See why I said that giggling is important?
3. You make the other person responsible for advising you or making decisions for you and then resent them when it doesn’t go well.
For example, I was so mad at my husband for what I perceived to be poor handling of our home renovation, until he offered to turn responsibility for the project over to me! The moment I contemplated all that responsibility and headache, I shut up and started to be grateful instead of criticizing. You can’t put someone in charge of decisions and implementation and then critique and complain about their decisions. Not only will it cause discord, but it will undermine all future ability to delegate, which you will REGRET!
If you are, right now, mad at someone for making a decision you should have been making for yourself or grumbling over someone’s leadership role that you could have taken on yourself, it’s time to giggle and then apologize!
4. You secretly like or benefit from the other person’s “weakness.”
Maybe you complain about how selfish or irresponsible a sibling is, all the while enjoying how good you look by comparison. Or you are annoyed that your boss missed a meeting with you, yet you enjoyed the free time and avoiding whatever topic you needed to discuss. Or you hate your mom for not listening to you, but you’d actually rather never share deeply about yourself anyway.
I call all of these roles “twists” because they appear, or shall I say we represent them, in one way, when in actuality something very different is going on. It can be uncomfortable to cop to your part in a mess or a troubled relationship, but once you get over the slightly awkward hump of acknowledging one of these twists, it gets remarkably easier.
Try it and tell us how it goes. Which twist is your biggest bugaboo?
As an executive at Handel Group® Life Coaching and a Senior Coach, Laurie Gerber spreads her message of empowerment through live international events, one-on-one coaching, virtual coaching courses, blogs, and in TV and radio appearances.
The Handel Method teaches how to live from and honor your highest ideals and values. It is taught at universities such as MIT, NYU, and Stanford, companies such as Vogue, The New York Times, Sony, AOL, and Conde Nast, and development centers such as Kripalu, Esalen, Menla, and Equinox. Handel Group® Life Coaching was featured on MTV’s True Life Special, I’m Getting a Second Chance, and A&E’s, The Marriage Test.
*Image courtesy of Tony Fischer Photography,