Did you ever need to discuss something important but feared doing so because of the potential for the subject matter to become contentious? You are not alone; many couples complain that they can’t talk to their spouses for this very reason.
Therefore, I encourage people to use “Purposeful Prefacing” before they begin those hazardous conversations. In other words, be purposeful about prefacing those potentially contentious conversations by stating the goals of what you want to achieve and how you want to achieve them first and foremost. Verbalize it all upfront, before you actually begin the conversation, and do it on purpose!
First, you have to do some thinking before you begin talking. How can you achieve a successful conversation this time? Think about the goals of how you want the conversation to go –– the “means,” instead of thinking about what you want to achieve by the end of the conversation:
- Decide ahead of time that you are going to be a listener. This means giving your partner eye contact while being quiet and actively listening when they are talking. Wait for them to finish before you begin talking. Don’t worry, you are going to get your chance to speak, but remember, we are working on the “means” of the conversation.
- Now think about what it will take for your partner to switch roles. What will it take for them to begin actively listening to you? They would probably like some positive feedback on what they just shared. This makes them feel supported, cared about and understood.
- Decide not to begin your talking points with stating the disagreements with what you just heard. But, do begin by stating any agreement you have; this is a very powerful piece during conversations. It communicates that you are not being one-sided in your views. Keep in mind that you are working on the “means” of the conversation, not forcing an outcome.
- Now ask your partner if you can begin to share your views. If you have demonstrated careful listening and support of your partner while they were sharing, then you can expect them to have lowered their defenses and to be more willing to listen to you.
Now let’s tie all of this together, the goal of achieving a successful conversation is to focus on the means of the conversation, not the outcome. Therefore, you would purposefully preface a potentially contentious conversation by stating the following:
“I’d like to talk with you about _____________, but I don’t want to argue about it. I want to reach a resolution. I care about you and support you, and I’m interested in what you have to say. I want to listen to you and then I’d like you to listen to what I have to share.” You will have better success with potentially contentious conversations when you begin with purposeful prefacing.