Meet therapist, coach and founder of Fundamental Health Lindsey Paoli, MFT-Intern.
Most of us hate the idea of conflict. I hear frequently in my office that many people will choose to ignore a problem solely to not have to have a confrontation. Often, though, the result is that the issue festers and then boils over later when combined with several other issues, resulting in a vicious blow-up to unpack everything at once.
I always say that the goal should be to have frequent small disagreements that might feel uncomfortable now and again (and become less and less so with practice) instead of stewing in discomfort leaving things unsaid, and then being really uncomfortable when the huge blow-up comes out. When someone has upset you, nip it in the bud and address it.
However, there is a certain amount of tact required to do this frequently and smoothly. When someone feels as though they are being confronted or attacked, they tend to go on the defensive.
To reduce the feeling of assigning blame, start a conversation instead with ownership of your own feelings (see why the Emotions 101 was important now?!). I statements take the weight and fight out of starting a difficult conversation—they say “I need help with this, can you help me?”
How to Start Difficult Conversations
First, follow your I statement with an explanation of how they have contributed to your response.
Then, offer a compromising solution that could avoid this problem again in the future. This would look like:
“I feel hurt and like you think I’m unimportant when you go so long without calling. I know you’re busy, but maybe we can create a regular scheduled phone date moving forward?”
See how this is completely different than:
“You never call me, so I’m not going to go out of my way to call you. I guess we don’t have to be friends.”
This Works for All Types of Relationships
The best part is this technique can be helpful in relationships of all dynamics. Be it the person you want to talk to a friend, family member, significant other, child or leader, you can appropriately and calmly create a healthier understanding of your needs through I statements.
Here are a few more examples:
- “I get so worried when you come home late and then I struggle to sleep. Moving forward, if you’ll be back later than midnight, can you call or text to let me know?”
- “I feel disrespected and angry when you raise your voice at me, which makes me lose focus. Can you please be mindful of your tone so that we can stay focused on completing this project more efficiently?”
- “I feel helpless and anxious when you come over without asking. Can you please call and ask to come over moving forward so that I can feel prepared?”
Try I Statements in your relationships this week, and keep in mind my advice that the answer to ever wanting to avoid a conversation is actually overcommunicating. Do you think this tool will help you to have fewer large blow-ups?