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Tips for Navigating Difficult Conversations

Dr. Kori Propst
in Mental Edge
January 31, 2018
2 minutes read

In a previous session we discussed how the people in our lives can serve as mirrors for us. Their responses to us literally show us how we impact them, how we show up or don’t show up, and what we might need to take a closer look at.

Consider how often you might put up a wall, turn away from, or defend against difficult conversations or situations when what is really needed is your openness.

What might happen if you put down your defenses and considered that what the person is saying might have a grain of truth?

Or if you watched their reactions to you as signals of what’s occurring within their internal worlds?

When a child is upset and you view their behavior as aggravating or disrespectful, can you remember that they aren’t the adults and don’t have the words or the emotional regulation skills to moderate their behavior or express how they are feeling? You must model how to de-escalate and bring down the threat level!

When your partner shares with you how she’s feeling and she says, “You’re being selfish,” can you get past the words themselves and listen to what she’s really conveying? “I feel dismissed and inconsequential in your life right now.” Would hearing that change how you respond? Would it cause you to openly consider that you have some responsibility in the situation? Not all of it, but some?

We are addressing process versus content here. The process is the dynamic occurring. And often the process breaks down when one or both individuals decides to abandon a position of listening to understand. What does it look like if we stand in the space of listening to understand?

Inside we are acknowledging that we have some level of responsibility.

Inside we are concentrating on the internal world of the other—not necessarily on the words they are uttering.

Inside we are recognizing that a difficult conversation is an opportunity to know one another on a deeper level, if we can remain undefended.

Outside it looks like, “Thank you for sharing this with me; can you help me understand more what that’s like for you?”

Outside your arms are not folded across your chest, like you have to protect yourself. If you actually have to protect yourself because of the possibility of physical abuse, that’s an entirely different conversation and this does not apply.

Outside you speak firmly by gently. You monitor your tone. You do your best to show up as the partner or friend or family member you would want the other person to show up as for you.

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