What Your Lack of Response Tells Others

ostrichMost of us think saying nothing is an acceptable and easy response to challenging situations. The ole ostrich-in-the-sand approach.  We hide out. We avoid, ignore and figure in time it will all go away. At the very least the other party will forget about things.

After doing personal coaching for 13 years, it’s clear to me this is not the case. No response, does not equal no problem. The issue doesn’t’ go away just because we aren’t facing it. In fact, more often than not, ignoring the issue leads to other problems.

We may THINK to ourselves, “I’m not saying anything. That will be safe.” But our silence communicates volumes anyway. It leaves things open to the interpretation of others, and, without our input. They decide on their own what our lack of response means. The meaning they give it is rarely what we intend.

Here are some of the conclusions that are often drawn by our silence:

  1. “You don’t care.”  –  If you did care, you would speak up and express your feelings.  Or at the least you would deal with the situation. Most of us interpret silence as indifference.
  2. “I’m not important.”  –   Someone waiting to hear your response might conclude, “I’m not important to you.” After all, in the midst of a misunderstanding or conflict, it would seem if I were important, you would do or say something.
  3. “Things are fine the way they are.” –  Sometimes when no response comes, we decide it means things are fine as is. Nothing needs to be done.
  4. “Do what you want.”  –  This is a convenient conclusion to draw. It allows us to do exactly what we want. After all, we haven’t heard from the other party (you), so obviously it doesn’t matter.  Without your input, we are free to decide what to do next. And considering there is a conflict, we love giving ourselves permission to do what we want.
  5. “It’s over.” –  Depending on the actual situation, sometimes we interpret silence to mean the relationship, friendship, or connection is over. That conclusion sets an entirely new set of circumstances in motion.
  6. “You don’t want to talk to me (or about it).” –  In either case, drawing this conclusion makes the other party completely reluctant to initiate a conversation. The gap widens. The silence continues.

Just because nothing is said, doesn’t mean no conclusions are drawn. Silence in the midst of an issue, argument, misunderstanding or crucial conversation only leads to more resentment and a greater distance to bridge for resolution.

breaking the silence

Are you an avoider? In the midst of a difficult conversation do you simply shut down and stop talking? Do you leave an issue hanging, never sharing your thoughts and questions? If so, remind yourself others will draw their own conclusions and most likely they will not be what you intend.

Want to resolve the issue? Want to affect the outcome? Speak up using The Way to Say It and allow yourself and the other party to talk it through and move on, whether that moving on means resolution, understanding, or just letting go. In any case, the wondering ends and there is clarity.

Want to learn more possibilities about what your silence is saying? Check out these links:  http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithwalkers/2013/02/silence-speaks-what-you-say-when-you-say-nothing-at-all/

http://silenttreatmentblog.com/

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The-Way-to-Say-It Conversation

The Way to Say It is not just about finding the right words. The Way to Say It is a kind of conversation that steps into rather than shies away from difficult, challenging and uncomfortable topics. It is a mindset that says, “Let’s resolve this,” rather than “Let’s ignore it.”

It’s a belief that honest, direct conversation is more productive than beat-around-the-bush conversation. The Way to Say It is about continuing to improve our communication skills whether we are at home, at work, in a group or with one individual, young or old, self-employed or in the corporate world.talk

The Way to Say It is ALWAYS:

  • Honest and authentic
  • Direct and clear
  • Free of blame and attack
  • Without judgment
  • Intent on creating understanding and resolution
  • Free of sarcasm
  • Personally responsible
  • Able to say what needs to be said (not just what’s comfortable)
  • Willing to listen as well as speak
  • Calm and neutral
  • Free of manipulation
  • Brave and bold

I’m totally committed to this type of conversation whatever the topic. It’s an ongoing process…finding the right words, the right tone, the right approach to make all conversations bridges rather than dividers.

What topics do you find difficult in conversation? What communication challenge do you have questions about? I invite you to share, ask, speak, and follow me on this blog as we explore The Way to Say It  as a way of life.

 

The Friend Break-Up

friend breakupEnding a friendship certainly qualifies as a difficult conversation. The problem is:  rarely does anyone actually have a conversation to end a friendship. It’s not like a “break-up” between couples. Most friendship ending are one-sided. Phone calls go unanswered. Emails aren’t returned. Invites vanish. The friend is left to figure it out on their own.

There’s no conversation. No explanation. Nothing. The terminator simply cuts the cord of the relationship without expressing what was bothering them. They never express their true feelings and their friend never receives an explanation of what changed, what went wrong.

Funny that people who liked and enjoyed each other so much just go their separate ways without any farewell. No well wishes. It’s just OVER.

Known for hitting on common life experiences, Seinfeld devoted an entire episode to the friend breakup.   Speaking of a friend from youth, Jerry turns to George and says, “What can I do breakup with him? Tell him we aren’t right for each other? At least with a woman there’s a precedent…you end it.  As a guy, I don’t know how I can break up with another guy…there is nothing I can do. I’ll have to wait for one of us to die.”

Just because no protocol for ending a friendship exists, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t step into that difficult conversation and speak the truth.

How?  By choosing the simplest, truest few lines to tell a friend face to face,or at least by phone, how we feel.

It could sound like this,

You know, Sally, we’ve been drifting apart for awhile and though I have thoroughly enjoyed our friendship, for me, it would be better to just wish each other well and move on.” 

End Friendship

Or if the relationship was a struggle, it might sound like,

“After the misunderstanding we had recently, it would be better for me let go of our relationship. I was much too hurt by what happened to continue. I realize we both played a part in the misunderstanding; I’m just not willing to give it more time. I hope you understand.”

Although delivering these messages is definitely a stretch, and not comfortable, don’t we owe our one-time-friends the decency of an explanation? At the very least, a short truthful conversation sure beats the current practice of leaving things unsaid.

What’s your experience been with ending friendships? Did you speak up? Have you been left wondering? Tell me what you think.

And remember this, should you choose to part ways in the future, please tell me, as best you can, the reason you moved on. I promise to do the same.

Four Words Guaranteed to Send Men Running

This conversation starter doesn't create the mood we intend.

This conversation starter doesn’t create the mood we intend.

Ladies, it’s true. We grew up hearing adult women say to their men, “We need to talk,” but I’m here to say don’t do it! Popular belief was that these words would be a good introduction to talk through an issue, handle a concern, or establish more connection.

No matter how many times you’ve heard this phrase, or how easy it would be to say, or that some people actually recommend saying, “We need to talk,” to initiate a tough conversation, I’m saying ABSOLUTELY NOT! Not today, not in the future, not ever. No. No. No.

Unequivocally, saying “We need to talk” will send men running—the other direction.

If your mind keeps telling you to say these words, promise me you won’t let them across your lips to be spoken out loud.

I get that you might not believe me. And I will admit, I once used them, too. But over time, I learned these words inspire dread in the hearts of men of all ages. These words are a sounding alarm.

And here’s what that alarm signifies for men:                     We-need-to-talk

  • Be on guard. Bad news is on the way
  • Get ready for tears and emotions
  • This is not going to be pretty
  • You’re going to hear what you did wrong or didn’t do at all
  • This conversation will definitely last longer than you hope
  • You probably will have to talk about things you’d prefer not to discuss

A study at the University of Missouri found that boys have different feelings about time spent discussing problems than girls do. For boys “talking about problems makes them feel “weird” and feels like they are “wasting time.” It should come as no surprise this belief carries over into adulthood for guys.

shutdown

Constructive conversation has no chance now.

According to Good Men Know the Real Meaning of We Need to Talk  

“…when we hear those dreaded words, we “shut down” because we feel like the student in the class who hears his teacher say, “I need to see you after class.” When the teacher says that, we KNOW we are in trouble. And when you say, “We need to talk,” we know there is an issue you want to scold us about.

Rather than fall back on this familiar, but oh-so-wrong way to start a conversation with a man, try these guidelines instead:

  • If your intention is not resolution and understanding, don’t begin the talk
  • Don’t initiate “the conversation” if you aren’t ready to talk right then!
  • Check any “tone and attitude” at the door, or wait till you are attitude-free
  • Remember, serious, meaningful conversation doesn’t require drama and heaviness
  • Cut what you want to say in half
  • Listen more than you speak
  • Commit to yourself that you will identify some part of the issue as yours and own it…
  • Be prepared to move on when the conversation is done

When you’re set with all of the above, select a more neutral way to start your conversation than saying “WE NEED TO TALK!”

Instead, casually say things like:

  •     “Let’s talk about this”
  •     “Let’s talk this through real quick”
  •     “What are your thoughts on this?”
  •     “Really briefly, I want you to know how I feel about….,
  •     “Can you clarify something for me?
  •     “Unlike how I’ve been in the past, I just want to discuss this briefly.”
  •     “Real quick…I  think ___________. What about you?”

 

For a really powerful change, DON’T use an opener at all. Just say what you need to say. No long detailed, set-the-stage windup, no long dramatic lead in, just talk. Say it as succinctly, with as few sentences as possible and the least amount of detail to say what NEEDS to be said, getting right to the point. It’s called “boy talk.” If you get no response and the conversation calls for one, ask what his reaction is. Otherwise, say what needs to be said. Thank him for listening and be done.

Instead of having the conversation or your relationship blow up, you’ll blow your man’s mind because you were able to talk without making it into a movie melodrama or mini-series.

Stay tuned for more about “boy talk” and what that looks like. And as always, through a post or private message, let me know what you experience with this approach.

And, repeat after me, “I promise to never initiate a conversation with a man in my life with the words WE NEED TO TALK.”

Right Words to Start Tough Conversations

Getting started is not as hard as you think. Try these phrases.

Getting started is not as hard as you think. Try these phrases.

The most difficult thing about difficult conversations is the first step. Opening your mouth to get the right words out. Starting off on the right foot. Being the one to broach whatever subject it is that’s uncomfortable.

But have you ever noticed —-once you start, things immediately get easier? Tension breaks.

With the first step behind us, the dread dissipates.  Just like public speaking, or a first time surfing, or trying some new challenge, the majority of anxiety arises in THINKING about it, not in the actual doing of it! Once we make that first move, utter those first words, something shifts. Suddenly things start to settle.

We can use that fact and some well worded introductions to help us get over the hump of our first step in a challenging conversation.  First, check out last week’s blog post, Six Steps to Initiating Difficult Conversations.

For conversation starters, try wording like this:

 “I’m angry about what happened yesterday.  I want to share my feelings and hear your perspective so we can clear the air.”

 “I think I made a mess of things in our recent meeting and I’m sorry.  I’d like to talk about it with you and see if we can’t regroup and get back on track.”

 “I’m very uncomfortable with some comments you made about the department. I’m hoping you can help me see things in a different light. Let’s talk this through.”

 “Let me tell you how things appeared to me when you said you weren’t interested in working with the new employee. Then I’d like to hear what your thoughts and reservations are.”

 “It’s important to me that we retain our good working relationship, so I want to share my concerns about our work project. I’m not happy with the way you have communicated with me on this, and I think we can do better. Let me tell you my issues and then let’s talk about what is making it difficult from your end.”

 “For me, it’s unacceptable to repeatedly not get a response from your office when I leave a phone message. I value our business relationship and I want a better level of service so we can continue working together.”  

 

To Learn Their Point of View, Ask Curious Questions

After delivering your succinct, clear, direct message, turn the tables. Keep the conversation going and on track.  Ask curious questions to give your listener the opportunity to share their thinking, feelings and assumptions. The goal is to understand both sides of the issue, not just yours.

Some phrases that will help you accomplish this sound like this:

“Can you explain your thought process so I understand where you are coming from?

 “Can you help me understand how you see things here?

 “Can you tell me what you were trying to accomplish so I understand your thinking?”

 Once you’ve asked the question, LISTEN. Yup, stop talking. Don’t defend. Simply listen.  It’s critical to give that respect and listen if your true intent is understanding and resolution. When they are done, there is time to clarify any issues that arise.

If You Mess Up

Difficult conversations are like life. Rarely are things perfect. Stepping into challenging conversations is honest, brave and forthright, AND sometimes messy. If you bumble something you say in one of these talks, do what you would do when writing. Edit!

Say something like,

 “What I just said isn’t quite right. Let me try that again. I want to get closer to what I’m trying to convey.”

 Wow, that was unclear. Let me try to reword that to make it more clear.”

 “Let me backtrack for a moment. What I mean is this…..”

And then try again. Simply start over with what you wanted to say, making an attempt to be more succinct and more clear. There is no rule in communications that says you can’t edit and reword what you say when it comes out less than perfectly.  In fact, the simple act of doing that often opens up communication. By being less than perfect, by being real, others often relax and we reach a better connection.

 

Make The Words Yours

Keep in mind whatever words you choose to say, you need to own.  In the beginning these direct conversations may feel awkward. You may feel unsure of how to word things. Over time it will get easier as your confidence grows and the discomfort becomes less disconcerting.  Till then, try to use these phrases above to get started. You may edit them a touch to make them yours, but refrain from going back to your old ways or you will get your old results.

As you try out these phrases, let me know how they worked for you.  If you come up with other great opening lines, I hope you’ll share them. I’d love to hear your experiences.

Six Steps to Initiating Difficult Conversations

Starting the conversation is the hard part.

Starting the conversation is the hard part.

There’s something about difficult conversations that keeps us stuck. We know we need to speak up, but instead we shut down. Rather than take action and get the conversation behind us, we obsess over it.

How should we say it? Will they get mad? How will they respond? Will they turn it around on us? What if they cry?  Suppose we lose control? What if, what if, what if. On and on we go. While we sit obsessing on what needs to be said, time passes. Tension builds. Resentment grows. The gap between us widens. Broaching the subject only gets harder as we procrastinate.

Nike built a zillion dollar brand on the slogan, Just Do It! Why not use that brilliance to inspire us? Waiting doesn’t make it easier. If you want easy, it is by far easier to jump in and handle the conversation than to wait.

Here are six steps to help you Just Do It with your difficult conversation:

  1. Know the goal  – What outcome do you want? In your mind, name that outcome…briefly and simply. Is it compromise? Understanding? Clearing the air? (If it isn’t a positive outcome…say for example, you want to punish them, or anger them, or get payback, then take no action. The Way to Say It is about coming from a positive place.)
  2. Be your “best” self  –  What’s that? It’s honest, direct, clear and calm, or at least even-tempered.  It also means having patience with others as well as owning your stuff.
  3. Don’t make issues bigger than they are  –  No extra drama. Nothing that is not relevant or necessary to reach understanding. Keep your wording brief and relevant. Less is best.
  4. Listen more than you speak  –  Know you only see one perspective, i.e., yours. By listening to what they have to say and sharing honestly yourself, you’ll learn their point of view and that is critical to resolution.
  5. Give up being right  –  Even if you are right, the goal is understanding. Understanding their point of view and feeling understood yourself.
  6. Accept how it turns out  –  Know that handling difficult conversations with grace takes practice. Accept that at first they may be messy, imperfect, but your efforts to step into these conversations are to be applauded. The conversation may be bumpy. Accept that. Focus on the outcome and congratulate yourself on your efforts.

As with most things in life, taking even the smallest step makes it all easier. Keep this in mind: the conversation itself is not the hardest part. It’s starting the conversation that turns us to stone.  It takes guts to be real, honest and direct.  The great news is more often than not, within minutes of initiating these conversations tension melts and relief floods in.

Next week,  I’ll share actual phrases,opening lines and words to say in these challenging conversations.

Welcome to The Way to Say It

Choosing the right words is a learned skill.

Choosing the right words is a learned skill.

 

Clients and friends have been sharing their concerns, fears, and challenges about the way to say it for years.  The way to word things. What to say in tough, uncomfortable conversations.

I hear comments like these about work:

“I can’t have THAT conversation cause I don’t know the way to say it”

“I want to end this drama and clear the air, but where do I begin? I have no idea what to say.” 

“I deserve a raise, but I just don’t know how to ask for it.

“I can’t talk to my boss at all. I’m   afraid of saying the wrong thing and getting fired.”

When it comes to tough conversations at home, things sound like this:

“I’m really mad at her, but I don’t know how to say it without ruining everything.”  

“No, we NEVER TALK ABOUT that!”

“I tried once to talk about that and I really screwed things up worse. It’s better to say nothing.”  

When it comes right down to it, most of us end up not saying it at all. Rather than work through our awkwardness or discomfort or fear of not being liked, we skip the difficult conversation altogether.

People worry. What if I say the wrong thing? What if they don’t understand me? What if I make things worse? Suppose they cry, or yell?  All sorts of fears come up around the way to say it. So rather than say it wrong, we say nothing. We stuff feelings. Withhold the truth. We just don’t say it. We procrastinate, ignore and silently hope the issue will go away.

Nope. Not a chance. Actually, things get worse when we ignore what needs to be said. Eventually we have to face the conversation, the talk, the issue, the truth, and by the time we do, our silence has created more damage, separation, distance and misunderstanding. Silence is not the answer. Issues don’t just go away and at some level we know this.

The answer….The Way to Say It. This blog is a place where you’ll find guidance, direction, ideas and real conversations about The Way to Say It regardless of what “it” is.  It might be about how to word a poor performance review, how to react to poor service, or how to request a raise. Or we’ll talk about those unspoken conversations at home, like what to say to your college graduate daughter when she moves back home, or even how to end an unhappy relationship. Whatever it is, The Way to Say It¸ is the place to learn to talk it through, to phrase it well, to face the conversation that we would really prefer to run from.  It’s about leaning in and saying what needs to be said and doing so with a certain amount of ease and grace.

The possibilities are tremendous and freeing, and I promise, it’s not as hard as it seems. Stay tuned for more blog posts, services and support on The Way to Say It!