Having Difficult Conversations – Part 1
Are you conflict averse? Do you avoid having difficult conversations?
Nobody likes conflict, but there are times when it is needed and times when it is unavoidable. Having a difficult conversation can be uncomfortable and awkward.
I believe the fundamentals for having difficult conversations are:
- Being able to listen by giving another your fullest attention.
- Listening to understand, and with empathy.
- Being able to negotiate, and compromise when need be.
- Be sure of the facts, and when you discover you are wrong, admit it, and apologise.
- Be assertive, and frank when you need to be.
- Act with integrity.
- Be authentic, and true to you.
This is the first of a two-part blog series where I will be sharing some experiences I have had in family, parenting and especially the workplace.
Part 1 is about difficult conversations related to family and parenting.
Not all conflicts need addressing. There are times when it’s better to just let something go. Be honest with yourself about what you feel, and what you need to do to move on. If it relates to something within your control, and is something that is important to you, find the courage to have difficult conversations, and not be conflict averse.
I am in my second marriage, so telling my mom and other members of my family my first marriage was not working and I would be ending it, was one of the most difficult conversations I have had, and I knew it would create some conflict. This is now over 10 years ago. I was not the person then that I am today. I was emotionally weak, quiet, reserved, and always the good girl who did what I was told and what others expected of me, whether I agreed or not, liked it or not. I always felt my views and opinions were never really important.
This conversation would have been so much easier if I wasn’t the one who no longer wanted to be in the marriage. Nevertheless, I decided to speak to my mom first. To do this, I had to build up the courage, and this was only possible when I decided my decision was for me, my future, and the life I felt I deserved. I wanted a life of being happy, without fear of being whom I felt I wanted to be. So, I made the call to my mom and told her. I agreed to meet at her home, and when I arrived some other members of my family were there. One in particular was not happy and wanted me to give up on and change certain things to make the marriage work. He had spoken to my then husband and his family, and I was pressured to stay in the marriage. The way I was made to feel had a huge impact on me. It felt so wrong. I kept telling myself I needed to be strong, and that no person should feel forced to make life choices they did not want for themselves.
About a week later, I sat down with my mother and grandmother, and essentially told them that I would not accede to my family’s wishes. I explained to them that I was making decisions that would change my life’s journey and set it on a path that I chose. They were not happy, but supportive. I felt like a disappointment, and carried a lot of guilt for a long time.
But, had I not made the decision I had made for myself, I would never have had the very necessary difficult conversations I needed to, and I would have missed out on the new course my life has taken. A journey now that I chose to be on, and on my terms. I could no longer suppress my thoughts and feelings, and cannot begin to explain how powerful having this conversation has been on my life since, in that it has given me the permanent courage to have difficult conversations, and not to be conflict averse.
My children are my life, so telling my daughter she would need to repeat grade 3 was one of the most difficult conversations to ever have with my child. I’ll always remember leaving her school after a conversation with her class teacher and the headmistress. I felt absolutely numb with worry about how I would tell her, how she would respond, and how she would feel. I felt guilty about not being able to protect her from her thoughts and feelings about it, and not being able to prevent it, despite knowing the decision for her to repeat was in her best interests.
My husband and I told her together. The most heart-breaking image that will remain with me forever, is through her crying, her repeated screams of ‘no mommy’, ‘no daddy’, ‘I don’t want to’. We felt so helpless. No matter the explanations and the assurances you give, nothing you can say or do in that moment helps.
For days I walked around with a heavy heart, feeling helpless, and of no value to my child. All I could do was reiterate the assurances, be there and let her be in that time, and most of all, show her unconditional love.
In the last few days of the school year, my daughter approached her class teacher saying she wanted to tell the class she was not moving on to the next grade with them. The teacher took my daughter to have a chat with the school counsellor. After their talk, they walked my daughter back to her class, stood on either side of her, as she told all her friends. Her tears were matched by the tears of all her friends. What a difficult conversation this must have been for a little 9-year-old. One which she had with so much courage, and one I could not be more proud of. I was not initially happy that the school had allowed this, without consulting me beforehand. They took the decision that in that moment, my daughter came first, and so only let me know when it was done. And in hindsight, it all happened the way it was meant to.
It was such a difficult time, especially when she was also in a home where both her older and younger brother were celebrating moving onto the next grade.
The school holidays helped us a lot. It was really important for me to continue having conversations with her, to understand what she was thinking and feeling, and making sure I was letting her know it was okay to repeat a grade.
Then, the start of the new school year drew closer. My daughter visibly retreated into herself again. On the first day of school, she felt sad and anxious, she was very aware that she would no longer be with her old friends, and terrified at the prospect of having to make new friends. She was so brave though. She did it all. She went to school, she made new friends, and successfully got through the school year as if it never happened. A year on, and this was no longer a difficult conversation for her. She is even comfortable telling anyone she repeated a grade.
I would like to believe that in demonstrating the need for having difficult conversations to my children, my daughter was able to feel secure in knowing she could too. And in so doing, she was able to work through her feelings, by getting a message across she felt she needed and wanted to, and it left her feeling a bit lighter.
In closing, difficult conversations can be incredibly empowering, and your courage might motivate others to be courageous also.
I hope that you will look forward to part 2, and the final piece in this blog series, where I will share some experiences about having difficult conversations, in the workplace. Until next week…
Yours in Adapting & Being