Difficult conversations

I knew it was coming, a conversation I could no longer avoid. Lots of self-judgment showed up in my preparations for it. “This is stupid. Just let it go. It’s not going to change anything if I talk to her or if I don’t. It doesn’t matter anyway. Get over yourself…etc. etc.”

Because I couldn’t seem to let it go and because I knew I had to continue to work with this person, I had to address the issue. A small group of us were hosting an event together. In our meetings we would each agree to fulfill a set of tasks to promote the guest speaker. Repeatedly she would forge ahead and complete the tasks we had agreed I was going to handle, then inform me after the fact, these tasks were complete so I could take them off my list. She would consistently convey this information to me at a subsequent meeting, with a big smile, with others present.

Here’s how it impacted me; I felt (repeatedly) surprised, embarrassed and undermined. The group simply seemed happy, the tasks were completed. No one dwelled on it. When the meetings were over, she was always the first one out the door, off in a hurry to her next engagement. I had to talk to her.

Here’s a simple process I used to prepare me for, what I anticipated to be, a difficult conversation.

Ø  BEHAVIOR: I listed her behavioral actions:
She was doing tasks we agreed I would manage.
Ø  IMPACT: I wrote about the impact it had on me.
My position in the group was undermined. My feelings were hurt. (I considered her my friend.) I wasted time and effort working on tasks that were then unless. I invested money in deposits for completing some of the tasks that was now not refundable to me. In addition to the hurt, I felt betrayed, angry and mis-trustful of her motives.
Ø  ASSUMPTIONS: I wrote about the assumptions, the story I made up in my head about why she did this. (When someone’s behavior has a negative impact on us, it’s easy to first assume they have a negative intention.) Here were some of my knee-jerk negative assumptions:
“She’s competing with me. She thinks I’m an idiot. She’s trying to take over my position with the group. She’s a show off. She’s a b****. She’s trying to get back at me for not helping her move.” Etc, etc…

Logically I knew my assumptions were probably not true. And I suspected some of them may have had a tinge of truth. We needed to talk, to clear the air. We needed to have what I anticipated to be, a difficult conversation. And I knew I was going to have to be the one to initiate it. Uggg. So here’s the 3 step process I used to help me.

  1. GRACIOUSLY REACH OUT: This is the tricky one, as when I feel hurt, I either want to cover my hurt with defensive bravado or shut off my feelings completely and become aloof. Somehow, somewhere inside myself I have to find a way to reach out open heartedly. For me this often requires some prayer and some ego squashing to create a space within myself for the unknown to enter. Then I called her up and asked if we could grab a cup of tea before our next meeting. She agreed. I instantly became nervous.
  2. ADOPT AN ATTITUDE OF CURIOUSITY AND WONDER: The key word here is attitude. Instead of bracing for an argument, I entered our conversation with curiosity about her intentions and wonder about the strong impact her behavior had on me. I shared with her about the impact with non-blaming language and a curious attitude. I spoke with her about my wonder at how strongly I felt and the surprise that our relationship meant so much to me, that her actions would have such a painful impact. Then I shared with her the assumptions I jumped to and asked if they were true.
  3. BE THE FIRST TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY: Taking responsibility for my own feelings is the way out of pain. Hard as it is to believe, she is NOT responsible for my hurt even if her actions were intentionally hurtful. My hurt feelings come from within me. I shared with her how I felt, that her completing my agreed upon tasks, touched a vulnerable place within that reminded me of similar feelings I had as a kid when big sister could do everything better than me.

After I shared my feelings, I asked her if she would explain why she completed the tasks that we agreed I would handle. Her answers were somewhat surprising to me. She explained she knew I was extremely busy with my business. She said each time she came in to the next meeting to share what she’d knocked off my list, she thought I would be delighted and that’s why she shot me such a big smile at the end of each meeting.

She also shared that she secretly and selfishly wanted a position on the board of directors and she thought her extra diligence would help her value be known and recognized. In listening to me share, she realized now she was doing this at my expense and should have checked in with me but was afraid I would tell her to stop.

I believed her. We both sighed and held hands a minute. We came to some new agreements, that she would ask me first if she found a quick easy way to handle one of my tasks before jumping into it. I told her she’d have my vote on the board and I would support her. We both felt relieved.

Difficult conversations have the opportunity to become learning conversations when we bring an open minded attitude with us. PRACTICE the 3 steps above next time you’re facing a difficult conversation. And check out the book, “Difficult Conversations” by Stone, Patton and Heen.

Laura Fine, LMFT

Laura Fine, LMFT

With love,
Laura L. Fine
Director: Lionheart Institute of Transpersonal Energy Healing