Tim and Angi were finding that their conversations always ended with one of them in a huff. Generally Tim would shut down when Angi wanted to complain about something Tim had said or done. This left Angi frustrated and then she too would shut down in retaliation if Tim asked her to do something. They asked me how they could get past this entrenched behaviour. I discovered that the problem was how Angi was approaching the conversation. By starting with a direct criticism, Tim felt as if he was being ambushed which triggered his fight or flight mechanism resulting in flight (going silent) rather than fight.

With a simple adjustment Angi could open a conversation differently, like this; “Tim, I’d like your support to have a conversation about some stuff that’s bothering me, is this a good time?”

Tim said that if Angi approached him in this way he would be willing to have the conversation she wanted to have. He said that he would be willing to talk about anything he had done provided Angi would also be willing to reality test her perceptions and assumptions instead of insisting they were correct. Angi agreed.

 

Names have been changed.

Reflection

Having difficult conversations requires sensitivity. It’s important to create a safe space which doesn’t put either person into shock. Giving each other a framework helps to ensure that grievances can be aired in a spirit of collaboration rather than from an adversarial stand point.


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