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If I Tell Him How I Feel, He’ll Leave Me

If I could wake up tomorrow with one special ability, I would want the ability to speak easily to others. Not only the gift of language to speak to anyone with no language barrier but also to communicate with others no matter the situation.

Many people think they cannot talk about certain subjects because of the potential reaction of the other person or they fear not being understood or that they will say the wrong thing. The solution, they decide, is not to say what is on their mind even at the risk of damaging the relationship through extended silence, wrong conclusions or physical distance. Family members, co-workers and business associates all suffer from strained communication at times and feel held hostage by their own inability to express themselves in a way that is respectful, clear and non threatening. I often hear people say things like:

“I didn’t say anything because I knew it would come out all wrong.”

“I had to walk away because it wasn’t the right time to talk about that.”

“If I tell him how I feel, he’ll leave me.”

To all of the head nodders out there, I disagree. Perhaps, maybe, two percent of the time, it may not be the right time to speak up because the receiver is not in the right frame of mind to process your message. The trouble is, the longer we wait to have the difficult conversation, the harder it may be to bring it up again. In some instances, not having the conversation can be more damaging or even tragic than the actual discussion that needs to take place:

• talking to your kids about drugs or sex versus intervention or an unplanned pregnancy

• approaching a family member about his signs of depression versus a suicide attempt

• calling off a wedding versus an unhealthy marriage or a bitter divorce

All meaningful relationships encounter occasions that call for high-stakes conversations. These conversations have been happening—or not happening—since the beginning of man’s existence. Consider this exchange:

Nathan: Let me tell you a story. There were two men in one city—one rich, the other, poor. The rich man had many flocks and herds. But the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb. The poor man took good care of it, even fed it from his own table.

David: Go on. Tell me more.

Nathan: Well, one day a traveler came to the city and stayed with the rich man. When dinner time came, instead of taking a lamb from his own flock for the feast—remember, he owned lots of sheep and wouldn’t miss one—the rich man stole the poor man’s one and only lamb, killed and prepared it and served it to his guest.

David: That scoundrel! What kind of man would do such a thing? He ought to pay for it, fourfold even!

Nathan: You are the man.

Life is messy, and sometimes we have to talk about it. The writers of Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, define crucial conversations as those when (1) stakes are high, (2) opinions vary, and (3) emotions run strong. The conversation between King David and the prophet Nathan (2 Samuel 12:1-9) had all of the elements of a crucial conversation with the added element that, if a prophet angered a king back in those days, it could be ‘off with his head’! Early in the book (page 3, second edition), the authors make this assertion:

“If you know how to handle crucial conversations, you can effectively hold tough conversations about virtually any topic.”

So, what is the first principle of dialogue? How can we ensure we won’t say something now that we will regret later? Start with Heart. Motive. Decide what you really want and stay focused on that goal.

King David and Nathan had a long relationship of friendship and mutual respect, and Nathan was loathe to damage their relationship, even in the face of a delicate, serious situation. The stakes were high, yet Nathan did not back away from the conversation that needed to take place. He began with the right motive and stayed focused. Dialogue skills can be learned, and it is possible to hold difficult conversations in a way that maintains the relationship—or even improves it—and results in a workable conclusion, even if the parties agree to disagree. No slamming doors. No silent treatment. No hard stares across the dinner table. Is this possible? The writers of Crucial Conversations assure that it is.

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler (http://www.amazon.com/Crucial-Conversations-Talking-Stakes-Second/dp/0071771328#reader_0071771328)

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