Last night, I sat down with someone near and dear to me, and began an uncomfortable conversation.
Oh, man. That is always a scary moment.
Running from the room.
Anything can happen when I take on a tender subject, and I've got the scars to prove it.
Which is not to say that every uncomfortable conversation explodes with the force of a thermonuclear bomb. I'm happy to report that last night's chat went very well, and today as I celebrate that happy result, I've been mulling over the tools that help me get a difficult talk headed in the right direction:
Strike while the iron is cool
Choose the right setting.
Begin with the end in mind
Listen first, talk last.
Look for common ground.
If necessary, agree to disagree.
End with an action step.
Now please don't get the impression that I handle uncomfortable conversations perfectly.
I would need more than one hand to count the number of times my husband climbed out of bed in the wee hours of the night and stomped down the stairs to interrupt one of the uncomfortable conversations of my daughters' teenage years to say, "If you guys don't quiet down, the neighbors are going to call the police."
But over the years, I've learned a lot:
And one of my main takeaways is that in most cases, one conversation is probably not going to change the world. I've learned to adjust my expectations and accept that what's needed is a series of uncomfortable conversations, hopefully becoming more and more comfortable with time and practice.
Baby steps, ya know.
* * * * *
Still, no matter how uncomfortable or downright terrifying a conversation might feel, talking is always preferable to not talking.
Yeah. I mean ghosting. Or giving someone the silent treatment, which is what we called it back in the day.
Wordlessly cutting someone out of your life because you don't know how to talk to them can only be the act of a desperate person who harbors a paralyzing fear of uncomfortable conversations.
And finding oneself the victim of this strategy is wildly confusing and deeply painful.
Other than a childhood boyfriend or two - okay, I can think of at least two - I don't think I've ever ghosted anyone. But I've been on the receiving end of this tactic quite a few times - from friends and family members - and I have slowly learned to take this bleak rejection less personally.
Because in the end, the silent treatment says way more about the perpetrator than it does the victim.
In fact, it screams at the top of its nonexistent lungs, "I HAVE ZERO CAPACITY TO TALK TO YOU AS A FELLOW HUMAN BEING AND THEREFORE I MUST RUN AWAY. GOODBYE."
And I have learned to respect that unspeakable panic and look upon those who have ghosted me in the past, and those who continue to ghost me at this very moment, with compassion. And pity.
It's worth noting that in several of my real-life ghosting scenarios, the ghoster eventually returned to me, the ghostee, with heartfelt apologies and explanations of what had happened. And that has been for me a very sweet experience, as words once again fill the wretchedly empty gap between two souls. Even though those first moments of renewed conversation can be painful and uncomfortable indeed, they are always worth the effort.
Because there are no two words that speak of love and healing better than these: