You can’t always agree on things with the people you love, and that’s okay! Conflict, within reason, can be healthy for a relationship. You can express different ideas, perceptions, opinions, etc. But how you communicate those differences, makes a huge difference.
So how do we communicate in a way that allows people to feel heard, accepted, and appreciated?
I like to think that arguments come in 4 different stages, and if all are handled correctly, mutual agreements can be made.
Stage 1: The Pre-Argument
The pre-argument is actually the most crucial part of the communication. Here’s what you need to do..
1. Figure out how you feel about the situation. I recommend journaling because it helps you process all of your feelings in a visible way. Think about why you feel the way you feel, what actions and events led you to feeling that way, and how you want to feel moving forward.
2. Make conversational points. Conversational points are your main “arguments” and things you want to calmly express to the other person. This includes how you feel, what upset you, how you wish the situation would have been handled, how you want to feel moving forward, the steps you believe need to be taken to reach a positive outcome, etc.
3. During this stage, you need to work on neutralizing your feelings before entering the conversation. If you go into an argument with anger or negative emotions, it’s extremely likely that you will act out of those feelings. Make sure that you are calm and ready to talk before you initiate conversation.
4. Once you’ve made sure all of these other steps are completed, reach out to the other person. Ask them if they are ready to have an open and honest conversation about the situation. Tell them that you are coming to the conversation prepared with your side of the story and points, and they should as well. That way, feelings can be pre-processed and understood on both sides. This really is an important step, because a conversation can really go sideways when someone feels blindsided.
5. Make sure that you discuss the best form of communication with the other person. Are you going to speak over the phone, through text, or in person? Different people have different preferences on how to communicate, and the medium that you use really matters. I personally prefer conversations over text because I can clearly get my ideas across, but I also know that others believe that a lot of messages can be misleading that way, so I’ve learned to start asking their preference before assuming.
Stage 2: The Opening
The opening is how you begin the argument.
1. Start the conversation by reminding the other person that you hope to have a calm, honest, and open minded conversation. Tell them that this isn’t a 1v1, you are on the same team trying to accomplish a goal.
2. Make sure to let the other person know that they are appreciated. Quite frankly, you want to warm their hearts before you give them some tough love. You should also mention that your criticism isn’t meant in a harmful way – you are speaking out because you care about them and want to get better.
3. Tell them that you can pause the conversation and come back to it if someone gets too frustrated. The most important thing is having a clear, improving mindset.
4. Ask the person for their side of the story first. Allow them to speak without interruption so they can feel heard. That way, they will feel appreciated, and most likely do the same for you.
Stage 3: The Main Points
This is the “juicy” part of the conversation, expressing your feelings.
1. Make sure to use “I” related statements that relate to how you feel.
- When __ happened, I felt __.
- You may have intended ___, but I felt ___.
- When you do ___, it makes me feel ___.
- I was under the impression that ___.
- I am ___ with you, because I feel ____.
- For me to be able to move forward, I need ____.
2. Give them compliments with your criticism.
- I really love it when you ____, but just not when ____.
- You are great at ____, but I feel like you may need to work on ___.
- I really appreciate ____, but not ____.
3. Admit your faults. If you don’t admit fault, people are going to believe that you aren’t willing to work with them, you’re just there to attack or change them. You need to compromise.
4. Allow and ask for feedback. If you are going to give them feedback, they have the right to give the same to you.
Step 4: End of Conversation
As you finish up the conversation, you talk about how to move forward.
1. Tell them what you’d like to see in the future, and ask for their opinion as well. Collaborate on a plan to fix it, and how to address the topic in the future if your plan needs an adjustment.
2. Remind them that you still value them, love them, and support them.
3. Thank them for their effort, understanding, and willingness to work with you.
Personally, after I end a conversation like that, I usually check in with the person a few days later. I ask how they are doing, see if they want to make plans, etc.
So, those are all my tips for having a constructive conversation with someone you love. This will work on a friend, family member, significant other, coworker – anyone! Just try to be genuine and understanding, and that will go a long way with people. If you decide to use any of these methods in the next conflict you face – let me know! I’d love to see what worked for you! 🙂 xoxo