When a hard conversation breaks down, it can be difficult to find our way back. After all, it took so much courage to attempt to have the conversation in the first place, and it hurts to have tried, only to find ourselves in an awkward position where we feel disconnected.
Choosing not to connect can be a completely valid (and healthy) choice.
But when we are interested in connecting, it’s helpful to have some tools that help us bridge the gap. Here are three tips to help you connect in a hard conversation (even when things seem to be falling apart):
Tip #1: Take boundaries seriously (including your own).
Often, in hard conversations, we assume that boundaries go out the window. (i.e. This topic is so difficult to navigate that of course, we all know that we’ve got to do whatever it takes to make this work.) This might sound good in theory, but the reality is: We all have feelings. Emotions. Needs. When we insist on pretending that navigating a hard conversations is a one-dimensional experience, we can end up distanced and perplexed.
Tip #2: Prioritize mutual understanding over perpetual comfort.
Respecting boundaries doesn’t mean we’ll all be comfy and cozy 100% of the time. Respecting boundaries means we’ll choose to engage in ways that bring us closer together rather than driving each other further apart. It means that we’re deciding to value mutual understanding more than proving our point.
But that doesn’t mean that the process will be comfortable.
Tip #3: Know when to circle back.
Hard conversations don’t have to happen all in one sitting or never (ever) again. There are times when it’s appropriate to chip away at a difficult dialogue. Moments when it’s necessary to bring in a facilitator.
Sometimes, we need to agree to do some reading, listening, and research so we can come back to the conversation more informed and better prepared to engage.
The reality that a conversation is difficult to have doesn’t mean we have to choose between raging at each other, or ignoring needs in an attempt to come to a consensus. It does mean that we need to practice responding in purposeful ways so that we can keep inching closer towards mutual understanding.