How's the Conversation Going? Improving Your Most Important Relationships One Conversation at a Time
Updated: Aug 23, 2021
When is the last time a conversation didn’t go well between you and someone especially important to you?
Or, when was the last time you avoided a conversation that you knew you needed to have--only to have it turn into a bigger and more intense conversation later when the proverbial shit hit the fan?
If you’re anything like me and most of the other humans inhabiting Planet Earth, you don’t have to go back very far in your mental files to recall that conversation that went badly or the one you avoided that came back around to haunt you.
Some of the deepest regrets people experience in their last days or after losing someone they love come from wishing they’d never said that one thing or had been brave enough to say that other thing.
We ARE going to die. But we’re not dead yet.
Let’s take a look at how we can improve our conversations with those we love and cherish most while we still have the chance.
Relationships = Conversations
In my line of work, the relationship between my client and someone else important to them--like a spouse, partner, parent, or child--comes up frequently as a matter of concern, hurt, stress, or disappointment. And more often than not, in those situations the quality of the capitol-C Conversation in their relationship is suffering.
In fact, our most important relationships are like one big capitol-C Conversation made up of thousands and thousands of smaller conversations over the years.
That capitol-C Conversation is of course made up of the words we do say. But it’s also made up of the words we decide NOT to say and the little conversations we avoid because they’re too inconvenient or uncomfortable in the moment. What we say matters, and what we don’t say matters, too. Sometimes, there are way too many words, and sometimes there are way too few.
Making It Personal
Pause for a moment.
Look back right now on the capitol-C Conversation you’ve had over the years with someone close to you. What’s it been like, overall?
Full of honesty--sometimes to the point of doing harm? Contentious? Riddled with suspicion and one-ups-manship? Maybe it’s been playful and adventurous but sometimes lacked the gravity that it needed in order to navigate challenging seasons. Maybe one person in the relationship always “wins” and the other one always “loses.” Maybe you can honestly say that even though there have been lapses, overall the conversation has been maturing through the years.
Whatever it’s been like, though, I think we can all acknowledge that there is room for growth somewhere. We’re not in pursuit of perfection. But we are in pursuit of even more substance and meaning and joy and satisfaction in the conversations that matter most, in the relationships that matter most. So that when either they or we breathe our last, we can say with conviction that we gave it everything we had.
Barriers to Improving the Conversation
Let’s look first at common barriers to improving the Conversation in the relationships that matter most to us. Then, we’ll explore a few ways to begin improving those conversations right away.
Alright, here are two of the most common barriers to improving the Conversation that I’ve observed:
Our Own Stuff: Obviously, this is a big one. Maybe we dislike conflict and just expect that any attempt to approve the capital-C Conversation will create conflict. Maybe we don’t assign enough value to what we see, think, want, or need. Or maybe we’re overwhelmed by our sense of how much time and energy it will take to turn things in a better direction. We might doubt that anything we do will make much of a difference, so why try? Past attempts to improve the conversation haven’t yielded much, so what’s the point? Those are just a few of the ways in which our own stuff can stand in the way, but there are many more, and we each have our favorite flavors.
The Status Quo: We get so accustomed to relating to each other in a certain way that it’s simply easier day-to-day to just stay on the well-worn path that we know--even though that well-worn path often doesn’t lead to good destinations in your relationship. And over time, it becomes a deeply rutted path with steep sides that make getting out of it seem even more challenging. Ladies and gents, the status quo is not benign. The status quo can be a mortal enemy standing between us and the best things in life. We’ll touch on this more when we get to how to improve the conversation.
Introducing The Growth Moment, with Amy K. Musson
But first, I’m really excited to share something with you that has impacted me in a big way because I think it can impact you, too. And that “something” is a new podcast that MY coach, Amy K. Musson, has just released, called The Growth Moment. Amy is a spectacular coach with a wealth of gifting and experience, and my partnership with her has been transformational.
The Growth Moment is a new way for more of us to benefit from Amy’s gifts and experience because her show literally lets us sit in on coaching conversations that she records with volunteer participants.
Amy adds context and commentary to help us understand what’s happening in the coaching conversation and apply what we’re hearing to our own lives.
Recently, I tuned in to The Growth Moment for the first time, and for some serendipitous reason I picked episode 3, Forget the Rules! Do it Your Way, featuring a soon-to-be-college grad named Benen. In just 30 minutes, Amy’s coaching helped Benen become more willing to trust himself and create the first steps in his post-college life.
As I listened, I gradually became aware of a deep sadness within myself. And a few minutes later, I was completely surprised to find myself weeping as I shared with my wife what I’d become aware of in the course of listening to the episode.
Now, I’m not a very emotional guy--not outwardly, at least. And I’ve wept like this maybe twice in the past 15 or so years. So this was NOT normal.
In fact, I had connected with a deep source of grief in my own life that I wasn’t even aware existed or needed to be addressed. This episode brought the grief to light and allowed me to begin processing it. Wow. I’m SO thankful for this new awareness, because where there’s unresolved grief, there’s stuckness that’s getting in the way of becoming the person I’m made to be and living the life I’m made to live.
Now obviously, as they say on commercials for medications and diet plans, “results may vary.” You might not connect with grief like I did. But I’m confident that The Growth Moment will impact you in some valuable way because in a very real sense, other people’s stories are also OUR stories. And Amy is a skilled guide helping her guests and we as the listener have fresh, actionable insights that lead to transformation.
HOW to Improve the Conversation
Alright, so we’ve touched on two of the most common barriers to improving the capital-C Conversation with the most important people in our lives--our own stuff and the power of the Status Quo.
Now, let’s turn our attention to how to improve the Conversation--things we can do starting today.
This won’t be a comprehensive list, but I think the following things are high bang-for-buck and can get us all a lot further down the road.
First, take responsibility for your own stuff. Do your own work. And get help if you need it. We usually lack sufficient objectivity on our own stuff to see it clearly enough to do much about it. A mentor, a therapist, a coach, or a trusted friend can help you get clearer on what’s preventing you from taking the next step in improving the Conversation and find ways to address it.
Next, motivate yourself. This is critical if we’re going to shrug off the smothering influence of the status quo and create a new way forward. Envision the good things on the other side of the awkwardness and challenge of improving the Conversation. Also, allow yourself to feel the pain and regret you’d experience if you didn’t do your part to improve the Conversation when you still had the chance. And revisit the reality and inevitability of your Mortality to give you that last bit of resolve to get moving in a new direction.
Then, have the little conversation now. We can pay a little now--in awkwardness, difficult emotions, etc.--or a lot later. It may feel easier to skip it for now, but that bill will come due eventually, with compounded interest. For example, maybe you feel like your spouse doesn’t communicate family calendar items to you very well. Since you’re working harder now to first take responsibility for your own stuff, you realize you’re feeling increasingly resentful about this because it can create a lot of inconvenience for you. You’re also taking new responsibility for the fact that you’ve never actually brought it up. So, the next time it happens, you break free of the Status Quo and risk having a little conversation about it in the moment instead of letting it slide by unaddressed again.
Lunch & Learn
One way that my wife and I have the little conversations now before they become big, hairy conversations is by having lunch together once a week. Sometimes one of us has something specific to discuss. But often, there’s no specific agenda other than creating a regular time for the little conversations to occur as needed. When we’re in this habit, the quality of our capital-C Conversation is usually much better. When we fall out of this habit, the quality typically declines, slowly but surely.
Experiment with what works for you.
But whatever you do, don’t put off having the little conversation now before you’re forced to have the big, hairy conversation later.
Creating a capital-C Conversation with those closest to us that we’ll be proud of in hindsight is the ongoing work of a lifetime. This work compounds over time, so the investment we make in it today matters.
To Sum Up...
Let’s recap the key points we’ve covered.
We first discussed two of the most common barriers to improving the Conversation, namely, our own stuff and the Status Quo. Then, we turned our attention to how to improve the Conversation--things we can do starting today. First, we take responsibility for our own stuff that’s getting in the way of a better conversation. Next, we motivate ourselves so we can shrug off the smothering influence of the status quo and create a new way forward. Then, we resolve to have the little conversation now.
What to Expect
New conversations bring new results. Sometimes, those new results are immediate and amazing. But they’re not always super enjoyable, especially at the beginning, as the other person adjusts to the new conversation, too. That’s ok. Be patient, and extend grace and the benefit of the doubt to yourself and the other person. And sometimes, it’s useful to have a professional help the two of you learn how to have the conversation more productively. That’s a smart move if you’re not finding a good way forward on your own, despite your best efforts.
The goal, BTW, is not to manipulate or change the other person. The goal is to do our part to create a higher-quality, healthier, more honest, and more enjoyable capital-C Conversation overall. That Conversation is made of thousands of other little conversations over the years. And you can begin to improve it today.
So resolve today to give a mighty heave and shrug off the smothering influence of the status quo, choose courage in the face of fear, doubts, and uncertainty, and resolve to do just one thing differently today. What will that one thing be for you?
I Can Help
Helping my clients have better conversations with the most important people in their lives is a big part of what I do. I can help you do that. Connect with me on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, visit my website, or email me.
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Remember, you ARE going to die. But you’re not dead yet. So get after it!