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Improve Your Relationships By Learning How to Communicate …

Many of our day to day conversations are routine, safe and easy. They involve making plans, discussing events, and sharing minor concerns. Some of our conversations however are about issues where we see things very differently, where we both feel strongly, and where the stakes are high. These are the conversations that define the quality of our relationships.

We face them in all parts of our lives. These are some of the most common ones.

Giving feedback to employees who do not perform
Discussing standards for disciplining children with our spouse or in-laws
Dealing with friends who let us down
Speaking up to people in authority
Dealing with toxic colleagues

Many of us simply shut down when faced with these conversations, scared that if we speak up with what we think or feel, we will become emotional, say the wrong thing and do damage to our relationships. So we tolerate situations that cause us frustration, inconvenience, or personal distress until the day when we can hold our feelings in no longer. Then we burst out in frustration, anger and outrage.

Learning how to make conversations on difficult subjects safe, is an essential skill in developing good relationships based on open and trusting communication. There are five principles you can follow.

The first is to hold difficult conversations sooner.
This does not mean that you should have conversations in the heat of angry moments. It does mean that you should plan what you are going to say and then as soon as you can find a suitable time and place, have the conversation. The longer you wait to discuss an unhappy situation, the more distressed you become about it and the less able you are to handle it calmly and safely.

Secondly, you should try to suspend judgment.
In every difficult conversation there are at least two sides to the story, and often no right answer. What is the right way to raise children for example? If you go into a conversation to win, to convince the other person that you are right, then you are more likely to end up in an argument than a conversation. Being open minded and willing to listen to the views of the other person goes a long way to making conversations safe.

Recognise that you may be part of the problem!
You can be part of the problem in a difficult conversation in several ways. One of the most common is that you have tolerated a situation for some time without speaking up, and the other person has had no reason to assume that you have been unhappy. If might be an employee whose poor performance or late-coming you have not confronted. It might be a partner or spouse whose work schedule leaves no time for family.

The longer you stay silent, the more you are contributing to the problem!

The fourth principle is to choose your battles.
No matter how skilled you may become in handling difficult people and difficult conversations there will always be some you will choose not to have. The stakes may be too high, and the risk of confrontation may be too great. Perhaps you have tolerated the situation for so long that it would simply be unreasonable to ask for change. Perhaps the issue is not important enough. Consciously choosing the conversations you will handle is an emotionally intelligent decision.

Finally, when you go into a conversation, put the facts first.
When you put facts on the table, you are putting down a safe platform on which a conversation can take place. People may see the facts differently, but the differing views do not change the facts themselves. Facts are just facts. They are not in themselves accusing or threatening.

When you plan conversations around these five principles you will find that it is safe to talk about many topics you never thought you would be able to confront. The result is that you will be able to build more open, trusting and healthier relationships.

maureen collins has a b.sc. degree in psychology from edinburgh university and over 25 years of consulting experience. she specialises in communication in the workplace. in straight talk, she trains people how to handle difficult conversations, on difficult topics, with difficult people. get free straight talk tips. http://www.straight-talk.co.za

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Listed: November 29, 2008 8:08 pm