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Difficult Conversations

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Article from Peace Talks Mediation Services May Newsletter

Difficult Conversations

Sooner or later, you’ll need to have a difficult conversation. Whether it’s “I turned my back for a minute and now we’re in the emergency room” or “this relationship isn’t working for me anymore” or even “I feel like I can’t talk to you because all you do is shut me down,” it’s going to happen.

Here are some tips for making your next difficult conversation as smooth as possible.

1. Plan ahead: What is your purpose for having the conversation? What do you hope to accomplish? What would be an ideal outcome? How can you word your opening sentences so that they are supportive, and not critical or condescending? Write out your goals on a piece of paper if you’ll need a prompt.

2. Don’t assume: What assumptions are you making about the other person’s intentions? Although you may feel intimidated, ignored, disrespected, or worse, are you sure they meant it that way? It’s easy to misinterpret what someone says, particularly when it’s via e-mail or voice mail.

3. Watch for triggers: Is the situation pushing your buttons? If you step back for a moment, are you more emotional than the situation warrants? Are you having a reaction that has more to do with your personal history than with the actual situation? You may still need to have the conversation, but you’ll go into it acknowledging that some of the heightened emotional state has to do with you.

4. Check your attitude: Your attitude influences the outcome. If you think the conversation will go poorly, it probably will. If you believe that the conversation, even though it’s difficult, will result in some good, then it probably will. Adjust your attitude for maximum effectiveness.

5. Put yourself in their place: Think about the other person. What might they be thinking about this situation? Are they even aware of the problem? If so, how do you think they perceive it? What will be their main concerns? What solution do you think they would suggest? Use some empathy to see the topic from a different perspective.

6. Look for commonalities: Is the situation you’re addressing something that may also be troubling the other person? Are there any common concerns? Could there be? Sometimes a difficult problem has a wider impact than just you, even though no one else may have brought it up yet because they dread having this difficult conversation.

7. Own your part: How have you contributed to the problem? It’s easy to figure out how the other person contributed. But what was your role in what happened? Are you ready to take responsibility for your part, even if you feel the other person is mostly to blame?

© 2010 Diana Mercer and Katie Jane Wennechuk. Excerpted from Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys for Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Perigee, December 2010). Contact:

Making Divorce Work

In Diana Mercer’s new book, Making Divorce Work: Eight essential keys for resolving conflict and rebuilding your life, the author discusses the benefits of designing a “divorce mission statement”.  She points out that a divorce mission statement is a compass one can use to guide oneself away from conflict and toward peace.  She reminds us that there is a huge distinction between what’s important and what’s urgent.  We are often drawn to the next most urgent thing, when in reality it’s the most important thing that we should be focusing on.  A divorce mission statement allows you to focus on designing the behavior that will help you to achieve consequences congruent with your long term objectives.

Ms. Mercer also points out different ideas that might be considered useful, such as: I was kind and honest throughout the entire process.  My children had two supportive parents committed to co-parenting and we did not have to go to court to resolve our differences.

She adds a checklist for statements that are realized such as: I will ask advice from people who are positive influences.  I will put my child’s interests above my own.  I will take care of myself physically and emotionally.  I will forgive myself and my spouse for the divorce.

I thought this was a great read and I recommend it highly.  For more information you can click here to visit Diana Mercer’s personal blog, or click here to visit her mediation blog.

The Law Collaborative,
Bringing peace to the legal process