What we do here:

Work on our stuff. Dissolve stuck. Play. Experiment. Rewrite patterns. We take sometimes-heavy things* and we make them more fun, playful, manageable.

I also write about my conversations with walls and monsters, and what it's like to work on a pirate ship. Good times.

* Sometimes-heavy things include: mindfulness and presence, pain and trauma, business-growing, that problematic word which rhymes with flaweductivity

 

8 ways to have a seriously unpleasant conversation

Clearly you’re going to have to finally talk to that person about that thing. You know you are. And really, it could not be more uncomfortable.

You didn’t want to have the conversation to begin with — but now you have to and you’re dreading it. Bleargh.

Your stomach is all knotted up. Or maybe it’s your throat that’s feeling tight and constricted. Either way, your body is being pretty darn clear: “please don’t make me do this!”

What a pain. And there seems to be no way around it. You’re going to have to have the talk.

So how about eight ways to guarantee that you’ll screw it up completely and make the whole situation way, way worse than it has to be?

Maybe even as bad as you’re imagining … ugh.

Aren’t you glad you hang out here? I thought as much. Here we go.

8 tips to ensure this encounter is as awful and miserable as possible.

Always say “I feel” when you mean “I think”.

For example, “I feel like we’re not communicating.” Or, “I feel like you don’t understand me.”

Or, “I feel like you’re basically being a complete asshat.”

It’s good to be imprecise. Mixing up thoughts or judgments with emotions keeps relationships alive. You definitely want to make sure that no one knows for sure what you’re talking about or how to respond to it.

Say “I think” when you mean “I feel”.

Keep your cards close to your chest. Instead of connecting with real emotions, keep it all as cerebral as possible.

For example, don’t say “I feel frustrated and a little anxious when you say that I’m not ready for this new level of responsibility — because I’m really needing to know that I have your respect and trust.”

That’s way too honest. Instead say, “I think you’re wrong.” Or, “I think you should give me a chance.”

In fact, stay in your head altogether. Go nowhere near your heart.

If you stick only to saying “I think this” and “I think that”, the other person will be able to refute those points and you’ll be able to drag out the conversation so that it’s both longer and way more awkward.

You’ll think one thing. They’ll think something else in response and before you know it you’ll be in a nose-to-nose knock-down argument.

Or maybe you’ll be pretending everything is okay and then crying in the bathroom, it depends on your personal M.O.

Perfect.

Make sure you don’t start connecting to your heart because that could end the conflict much too early. You might even end up saying something really gentle that doesn’t hurt the other person’s feelings at all.

For example:

“You know, I’ve gotten so much from working with you, and now, after I took the time to meditate on our work relationship and asked my heart where we go from here, the information I got was that it’s time to restructure it. My heart says it’s time to step back and take a break and process all the useful information I’ve learned from you.

Of course I would never want to hurt your feelings, so I’m feeling kind of nervous about bringing this up, but that’s kind of where I am right now.”

Wow. If you said something like that, they wouldn’t be able to argue with you at all. They’d probably just ask you some questions and give you a hug, and then the conversation would be over. You certainly don’t want that.

Luckily, the next tip gives you an out if you’ve messed things up by being too centered, grounded and compassionate.

Give the other person way more information than they could possibly process or use.

Instead of telling them what your heart needs (which might result in meeting that need and resolving the situation), overload them with information.

Carefully enumerate each and every reason and thought-process that has been keeping you up at night. List all their flaws and the things they’ve done wrong that have made you resent them even though you used to like each other.

Everyone likes “constructive criticism”, especially when a situation hasn’t worked out just because two people happen not to be the right fit for a certain thing at a certain time.

They’re sure to want to know exactly why you have been avoiding this conversation, as well as every single thing they’ve done that has gotten on your nerves at some point.

Don’t do any prep.

Don’t waste any time breathing slowly or doing acupressure or using a couple of my Emergency Calming Techniques.

Just spend a couple sleepless nights agonizing over the whole thing, have a large glass of bourbon right before you’re about to have the talk, and then tear right into it.

It’s like pulling off a band-aid. So much easier that way, don’t you think?

Don’t do any alignment exercises.

For example, don’t bother thinking of ten things the two of you have in common, and writing them down.

You don’t want to start identifying with them and feeling empathy.

You certainly don’t want to be like a client of mine who did this, and then discovered accidentally that both she and the person she was avoiding talking to share all sorts of really unique and inspiring qualities.

In fact, she remembered that both of them were really gifted at seeing the way around stressful situations — turned out they were able to find the possibilities and the potential opportunities in any challenge.

My poor client ended up realizing that this person might just be the best possible person in the world to have this particular kind of uncomfortable conversation with. Then she totally stopped wanting to throw up.

Awful, right? Ugh.You don’t want to be her.

Don’t mention what you need.

And don’t bring any attention to it if it comes up either. Stating needs is for pussies.

You don’t want to give the other person a way to start identifying with you and wanting to meet you halfway.

Even worse, you might end up asking yourself for some patience and compassion.

From there it’s a slippery slope to even more awful, embarrassing things. Like being willing to like yourself even though you’re a human being who makes mistakes. Please, let us never speak of this again.

Don’t read these articles

I’ve written a bunch of stuff about communication and relating to people, god knows why. I was probably drunk on yoga or something. Ignore all of it.

Specifically:

That’s all I’ve got.

Good luck with that.

[Ed. Oh for the love of all that is good. You try and take one lousy day off and then your duck writes your post. Note to self: keep Selma away from the computer.]

24 Responses to 8 ways to have a seriously unpleasant conversation

  1. Dick Carlson
    Twitter: techherding
    says:

    Selma, you make me smile.

    Dick Carlsons last blog post..Watching and Learning, Virtually, At “LeWeb” In Paris

  2. Brilliant Selma! You couldn’t have written a better post on how to pour gasoline on the flames of interpersonal conflict.

    Havi… I think you should let Selma loose more often. She’s cool.

    David

    David Masterss last blog post..7 Acts of Randomness to Disturb and Enrage Buried Creativity

  3. James | Dancing Geek
    Twitter: dancing_geek
    says:

    Love it! Snarky, heart-centred, yoga butt kicking!

    Selma needs her own login, it still says Havi’s name at the top ;)

    Plus (cause I have this really annoying habit of spotting inconsistencies and then blurting them out in public) why would Selma say “I have written a load of articles”?

    It’s like fight club all over again, Selma didn’t really write this! :O

    Ok, less party-pooping – I guess I’m just feeling a little guilty after realising that I regularly do about 5 of the things mentioned. So much to assimilate!

    Well done on doing something different, I just like to find holes – it’s a compulsion I tell you!

    James | Dancing Geeks last blog post..Identification, Self expression, Conformity and a rant

  4. Hi Havi-
    was planning on a few unpleasant conversations in the near future so when I saw your post on twitter, I was all over it. For some reason, the part that made me laugh out loud was the last piece, “Oh for the love of all that is good”-
    laughing alone at the computer is always worth a comment to a blog!
    xox
    Lisa

  5. Pace says:

    Yoga Fight Club: you have to stay in downward dog for three days before they’ll even let you in.

    Paces last blog post..Disconnect from what you don’t want.

  6. Pace says:

    To expound on tip #1, if I may: When you say, “I feel”, be sure to always follow it up with “like” and then a thought. Take care to avoid following it up with an emotion, like “I feel angry” or “I feel hurt”. That way lies the dangerous path of open emotional communication.

    Paces last blog post..Disconnect from what you don’t want.

  7. Shannon Wilkinson
    Twitter: shannonmw
    says:

    When I saw the title of this post, I thought, “Shit, why couldn’t Selma hijack the blog yesterday, BEFORE, I had to have my difficult conversation 20 years in the making.” (Yes, this was before I discovered hypnosis and NLP, not to mention the Procrastination Dissolve-O-Matic.) I’m still re-thinking the whole thing, and wondering how I could have handled it better.

    But then as I read through it, I realized that I didn’t fall into any of those traps. I got the empathy I wanted, I gave the empathy the other person needed, and we cried and laughed and cleared up some very old hurts. It was just like a Lifetime made for TV movie.

    Thank you for helping me let go of it, and just revel for a moment in the progress I’ve made.

    And thanks too Selma for using both Asshat and Pussies in the same post. Beautiful!

  8. Brandon W says:

    Until today, “asshat” was a word I had heard, a word I liked. Now, as of today, it is officially my new favourite word.

  9. Havi Brooks
    Twitter: havi
    says:

    :)

    @Brandon – Oh, good. Because it’s Selma’s favorite word. At least I think it is.

    @Shannon – yay for getting through a difficult 20-year-processed conversation. That’s amazing. Hard stuff.

    @Pace – good point. I’m glad we have a communications and interpersonal relationships expert on here to agree with my duck. It raises the level of everything. :)

    @Joely & Lisa –

    @James – oh, my dear. I blame Selma. Whatever it is, it’s all her fault. She’s a conniving little slut, just like Naomi says.

    And don’t be hard on yourself – the only reason we have all these strong opinions on how to screw up communication is from Painful Life Experience and much accumulated awfulness and pre-conversation-vomiting.

    @Dick – And you make ME smile. Selma is pretty much always smiling. At least I think she is. It’s a fairly cryptic expression but she looks pretty perky.

    @David – Thank you! I’ll send her over to your site to do some damage. :)

    @

  10. I love Selma! She can snark anytime.

  11. Joely Black says:

    Hehehe! I like that you didn’t say anything. Not even “I feel…” or “I think…”

    Kind of appropriate, re-reading this. I ranted at Art Teacher Guy today. Now I’m beating myself up about it! One of those Painful Life Experiences where you go “Gah! He just didn’t know how much that hurt when he said it! Not his fault!”

    Go Selma! Again! I want a flag with that on.

    Joely Blacks last blog post..In honour of the death of Woolies: Pic’n'mix post

  12. Wormy
    Twitter: SecretWormy
    says:

    I love Selma’s sarcasm! It’s awesome – Go Selma. (PS I think you should hijack the blog more often – after all, if you’re good enough to run for president…)

    Wormys last blog post..Process

  13. JoVE says:

    Great post. But there must be something in the air. Jen Louden did one of these sarcastic posts recently, too. I’m pretty sure I need to come back and read this and all the posts at the bottom sometime when I’m feeling more like I have time to get into that. Right now I have to go hug my kid and maybe read some history to her or something (that’s a nice thing to do, honest).

    JoVEs last blog post..I think winter might be here

  14. mariko
    Twitter: marikooosceola
    says:

    Hi Havi:

    Love the post, but there may be a broken link for the book recommendations — either that or a rubber duck has highjacked my laptop and wrecked havoc….xoxox Mariko

  15. Mynde says:

    Ok so Selma is totally brilliant. I’m insisting that she was there, during that horribly awful communication breakdown I had last week and saw everything.

    O, I feel so human now. Thank you. Thank you. Not like, oh gack, I get to be human, but in the good self-accepting kinda way.

    My snark is now salivating all over my keyboard and trying to convince me that if I write a post like this, it would be therapeutic.

    Havi, I thank you and your duck, once again. The way you share you experiences makes me feel like we’re the closest of friends and yet your this yoga chic in Portland with a duck. I dunno ;)

    Myndes last blog post..YWC Case Study

  16. Rachael says:

    Who knew that Selma could blow Havi’s awesomeness out of the water with such a rockin’ post? This is so useful for the hardest of the hard stuffs.

    @Pace – I have to agree that [I feel + like + thought (rather than feeling)] is a fantastic formula for a SUC.

    …Although, I have to say that not using “I” statements at all is my personal favorite. Why stop at keeping your heart behind a wall when you can just start right off with launching grenades?

  17. Debi Hoag says:

    Good grief, I hate that I see myself in every one of those ways to screw up. It’s slowly getting better as my gentleman friend reminds me that I don’t have to close myself off and that it’s OK to feel. If I can just remember the part about not giving so much detail that his eyeballs begin to roll back in his head … Ah, well, it’s an ongoing lesson and a journey that I love being on.

    Thanks, Selma, for putting so many of my unconscious habits in to words. It’s kind of cool seeing them from the outside instead of having to find my way out of the darkness they create.

  18. I never really thought about the I feel and I think difference, it really does change the whole tone and importance of what you are saying.

  19. [...] Thanks (and apologies) to DeepFriar and Havi Brooks for unwittingly planting the seeds of this post in my mind.  Go read their posts; you’ll [...]

  20. [...] are many books and resources on communication. I wrote about one of them 1.5 months ago. There are blogs and websites dedicated to communication, and courses that teach you skills (which you will [...]

  21. [...] Thanks (and apologies) to DeepFriar and Havi Brooks for unwittingly planting the seeds of this post in my mind.  Go read their posts; you’ll [...]

  22. Hannah says:

    Love this post

    Yay Selma !!

    trying to take some of it on board – a little digestable bite for my next conversation

    and if all goes wrong i shall say it was a Succesful Unpleasant Conversation ;)

  23. Karen J says:

    Blessings to you Havi, your duck (Hi, Selma!) (Do ducks appreciate skritches like cats do?) and all-y’all of the long-time-ago!

    And hurray! for your “Don’t read these posts” monkey and all his relatives ;)
    Karen J recently posted… Monster Disguises, or What’s REALLY Going on Here?

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