Relationship recipe – sounds so simple, just follow the steps and voila, everything will turn out perfectly. Simple, yes? But as every good cook knows, becoming a great cook takes time and attention, and practice.

Last week we talked about being your own PAL – taking time daily to pause, allow, and listen to what is really going on with you. That practice is foundational work for successful conversations. Especially when the heat is on high. Just like when you bring a pot of water to a boil and have to turn the heat down to a simmer so as not to scorch your dish, being able to lower your own reactivity, to slow it all down when tempers flare, is a necessary skill.

But let’s start from the beginning. Let’s say, you have set up a time to circle up and have that hard conversation. Now what?

You may be feeling some negative anticipation. Maybe you are not sure how it’s going to go. What if you aren’t able to make your case clearly? What if they don’t understand and nothing changes? You are starting to get cold feet about having set this thing up. You are hoping to avoid the conversation, hoping that divine intervention will force you into quarantine for 2 weeks. Maybe this thing will go away.

Or you may be feeling kind of righteous. After all, you took the action to connect, you’ve acted the “bigger guy”. Now is the time to whip out that relationship recipe so you can win the day, make your point, just make them see the truth of it all. They just need to get on board.

There is an underlying issue for both of these scenarios – an assumption that your side is the truthful side and a sense that you have to win and someone has to lose. You are forgetting the most important thing – there are always 3 sides to every situation – your story about what happened, their story about what happened, and what happened. Getting to the bottom of that requires dialogue. And awareness of what feelings are connected to the situation, and what the whole thing means to you. How does the situation impact your own sense of who you are?

It’s not about winning it’s about finding solutions to the problem. In order to do that you have to create shared meaning or understanding of what happened. You both must win. That only happens when we set up a safe, no judgement space to share – to dialogue. Good dialogue happens when we stay curious instead of convinced; open to a variety of outcomes. defines a dialogue as ‘an exchange of ideas or opinions on a particular issue…with a view to reaching an amicable agreement or settlement.’

So, before you meet up to have that conversation, just like checking your kitchen to see if you have all the ingredients, you’ve got to check in with yourself to find out what really matters here.

Here are some questions to get you started. Ask yourself:

What am I trying to accomplish? What do I really want from this discussion? Do I want to feel more closely connected with this person? Do I need to have my say? Am I grappling with who is to blame for the situation? Am I assuming my stance is the truth? Am I caught up in my own righteous indignation? If I assume I am right, how might that assumption discount the other person’s experience? Am I afraid that if I acknowledge their experience, it will diminish my own? What would my highest Self say I want? What types of statements trigger my own reactivity? What types of statements do I throw out there when I am feeling on the defensive? How can I move from protective mode to learning mode? What else could I do?

Getting clear on the answers to these questions, trying to get to the root of what really happened, what feelings are connected with the situation, and the impact on who we are at the core are the first steps in successful conversations that connect us rather than divide us.

Honestly, every good relationship begins with honesty. And that ‘begins with me’. Sometimes that is the hardest part. To own where you went wrong. To see clearly what you think, feel, want, are afraid of and to own that truth. That and realizing that is what ‘the other guy’ wants too.

Let’s get started. Take time to do an inventory. Answer the questions above. Get honest with yourself about what could move you from curiosity and learning to defensiveness and protective mode. Practice PAL.

When you are ready to have the conversation, start with gratitude for coming together to talk. Don’t just feel it, say it. “Thank you for coming to talk with me about this. It means a lot to me.”

Before you begin, prepare your space. Ask each other a few simple questions:

  • What would be the best outcome for you in having this conversation?
  • What are 3 simple guidelines we can put in place so we can talk?

Really listen to what they say and take it at face value. Stated simply, accept it as the facts. The best outcome for you should line up with what you inventoried in preparation for this conversation.

As you talk if you find yourself in the heat of the moment, the water is starting to boil and you know you need to bring it down to a simmer, remember what you ultimately want and refocus on that. Before you react, ask yourself:

  • What do I really want here? What am I doing right now?
  • What is this telling me about me right now? What are my intentions?
  • Am I staying in line with my ‘best outcome’ or have I tripped into something else?
  • Am I staying curious to learn more or have I fallen into the ‘win-lose trap’?

By asking yourself these questions, you will help your brain move from back-brain reactivity [fight, flight or freeze] to frontal lobe problem solving thinking.

It’s all in the preparation.

I am grateful for what I have learned through my coach training, for the many conversations I did not do well that propelled me to learn more, and conversations where I took the risk to be vulnerable that paid off. They all moved me to keep looking for better ways to communicate.

Some of what I have shared today came from this book:
Difficult Conversations [How to Discuss What Matters Most] by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen.

If you are seeking an in-depth read check it out.

In the meantime, check in next week for more relationship recipe ingredients.

Just go to my website, or call 980.224.3554.

“Meet at the table. Leave together.”

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