A Conversation Game Changer
The other day I was having a conversation with a friend of mine about how she should approach a potentially touchy subject with her BF. She had noticed a shift in her boyfriend’s behaviour over the last few weeks: his texting had gone from relatively frequent to only a few times a day. He had started making plans to do his own thing more often than what had been the norm up to that point. She also noticed that he seemed a little distant and withdrawn.
Now the thing is, I know this guy. I know how much he cares about her so I know he’s not looking for an out. Often those things can signal the end of something and I know that’s not what’s happening here. What I also know is that this guy has a hard time asking for what he needs…
So here’s my girl trying to figure out how to have a conversation with her BF, really wanting the best for both of them. They’ve been together for a while now and the honeymoon bliss might be starting to fade and the time for real foundational work is beginning. She wanted to have an open conversation with him so they could make sure they were both on the same page, getting their needs met, and set up for long-term success.
I noticed while we were talking, that a lot of her focus was on what she thought he wanted and needed, and little focus on herself and her feelings. When people do that to me, more often than not they miss the mark – half the time I feel like they don’t actually hear me or understand what’s going on for me. I feel guilty for wanting something different than what they’re saying they think I want and I also feel resentful that what I want isn’t what I’ll end up with.
That got me thinking… this is a pretty common theme in most interpersonal conversations and relationships. Outside of calculated business negotiations, it’s not very often we spend time focusing on our needs, we tend to focus on: keeping the peace, not offending, and trying to get at least a ‘make do’ solution.
So why does it matter and what do you do about it?
Let’s start here: Does any of this sound familiar? Do you ever experience any of this?
- Feeling taken advantage of
- Often defending yourself for things that aren’t your fault
- Always having to “save” or fix other people and their problems
- Feeling alone or lonely, even when others are around
- Getting more invested in a relationship that the other person
- Feeling overly responsible for how others feel
- Regularly getting sucked into drama
- Always being busy
What do any of the things from that list have to do with my GF and her situation? Well… all of those things have a common denominator and I think it’s high time we got to the bottom of it and set you free. This situation with my GF is simply another example of how those things can look in real life. Oddly enough, the common denominator that will stop those things from happening to you is simple: put more focus on your needs.
As a society, we don’t get taught how to do that very well. We learn how to please others, fit in, be agreeable, keep the peace, conform, etc. We learn to do our best to figure out what others want/ need, try to accommodate that as best as possible, and (if we’re lucky) we might get some of our needs taken care of too.
Basically, we learn how to be dysfunctional rather than how to have relationships.
What I know is that most people spend so much time doing that stuff, they end up leaving themselves completely disconnected from what they really want and need. At best, we have to settle for the ‘kinda-sorta-maybe-best-possible-compromise-scenario’ and the idea of a complete win-win doesn’t even exist as a thought, let alone a possibility.
Believe it or not, when two people have a clear idea of what they want and they unabashedly bring that to the table, a true win-win is almost always a possibility if not a definite end. It may seem counter-intuitive at first and I promise you it’s true.
So let’s bring this back to the conversation my friend was going to have with her BF… Rather than starting the conversation from a place of ‘here’s what I think you must want and here’s how I can make that ok for me’ and hoping for the best, she used this simple structure and had some pretty great results:
STEP ONE ~ SET THE CONTEXT:
Always, always, ALWAYS set the context for a conversation – especially if it’s a ‘feelings’ or ‘relationship’ conversation. People are inherently expecting to be told something bad during conversations like this.
If you set up the conversation by saying why you want to have it and what you’re aiming for as an outcome, 9 /10 times the person you’re talking to will be more present and focused with you and what you’re actually talking about. If you don’t set the context, whoever you’re speaking to will likely be getting ready to defend themselves because they’re listening for where you’re mad at them or what you think they did wrong.
STEP TWO ~ TALK ABOUT YOU:
Now I’m not suggesting that you become a narcissistic egomaniac…
What I am saying is: if you don’t tell the other person how you’re really feeling, they won’t know. If they don’t know, they can’t do anything about it. Expecting that someone ‘should just know’ is expecting someone to mind read. It’s also taking the responsibility for your feelings out of your hands and putting it in theirs. Essentially – YOU’RE GIVING YOUR POWER AWAY!!
This dynamic sets the stage for a lot of contempt and resentment on both sides; I get to be mad at you for never getting how I feel and you get to be mad at me for always making it your job to be the decision maker or leader in the relationship.
When you want an equal or a partner (FUNCTIONAL RELATIONSHIP) having this dynamic at play in any way, shape, or form will signal the inevitable end. You are responsible for how you feel, period. If you want to have your needs met, you have to figure out what they are and then tell people about them.
STEP THREE ~ GET CURIOUS:
Regardless of whether you’ve known the person for 10 days or 10 years, life experiences change us and the way we perceive the world. If you assume they are the same person as they were a year ago, you are discrediting any learning, growing, or life-changing experiences they may have had.
Start asking open-ended questions that have nothing to do with you or what you think.
I love to ask the question: “In a world with no consequence, what would your ideal solution or outcome be?” That’s a great starting place, then you can work back to what’s possible and agreeable for both of you. That’s how real win-win solutions are generally created.
STEP FOUR ~ LISTEN:
Again, for most of us, this is a tough one… we learn how to figure out what’s coming in a conversation so we can start formulating responses rather than actually listening to what people are saying. Practice staying present with the person you’re talking to.
If things get overwhelming, heated, confusing, frustrating, or anything else – take breaks! If you need 5 minutes or 5 hours to collect your thoughts, no problem! All you need to do is tell the person what you need, clearly; that means you tell them “I need 5 minutes” not “I need some time”. Being vague when feelings are on the line isn’t responsible or respectful.
Also: keep in mind that if you’re going to ask questions, you better be willing to really listen to the answer… In other words: don’t ask if you don’t want to know.
STEP FIVE ~ LOOK FOR ALIGNMENT:
Look for where you align with the person you’re talking to. Highlight those things and use them to build from. When you’re clear on where you connect, it opens the door for more creative options and possibilities to deal with the places where you don’t.
STEP SIX ~ REPEAT STEPS 1 THROUGH 5 AS OFTEN AS NEEDED!
From there… anything is possible…
How’re You Doing?
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