Conflict Coach: How to approach difficult conversations

"My wife and I are snapping at each other constantly. I need it to stop or we need to go our separate ways"

Faith Wood knows how to resolve conflict. Her years in front-line law enforcement taught her how to effectively de-escalate any situation to a successful conclusion. Faith will use her knowledge of conflict management to guide you through the often stressful experiences you may encounter in your personal or professional life. Her Conflict Coach column appears regularly.

Faith WoodQuestion: Things haven’t been easy the past 20 months. We’re struggling to keep our small business afloat and the constant changes with the children’s schools are adding a level of tension that we’ve never encountered before.

My wife and I are snapping at each other constantly. I need it to stop, or we need to go our separate ways.

However, I’m pretty sure she won’t enjoy me broaching this subject. Any advice on how to have tough conversations with a spouse?

Answer: You love your partner but, sooner or later, a tough conversation needs to happen. While this is normal (what relationship doesn’t have its bumps along the way?), how you handle those conversations will determine whether you come away from this conflict with a stronger appreciation for each other.

This is why it’s so important to handle difficult conversations well.

How do you ensure you engage in the best conversation possible in these circumstances?

Don’t put off the talk longer than necessary

Take time to count to 10 or to take a few deep breaths before beginning. Starting with too much emotion will be more damaging than helpful. Once you’re cooled down, it’s time to talk.

Why is it better sooner rather than later?

By putting things off, you tend to build up resentment and inflate the conflict. It’s important to address situations before they get out of hand. A small problem today is much easier to solve than a giant one several weeks from now.

Drop the good news/bad news approach

Click here to downloadNo one likes waiting for the other shoe to drop, so instead of giving the compliment with a ‘but’ lurking to negate everything you’ve just said, just come out and say the bad news first.

If you’re determined to add in the compliment, do so after the bad stuff is out of the way, so you leave the person on a more positive note.

Plan your conversation

Rather than blindside your partner with an uncomfortable discussion, let them know you have something you want to talk about.

Make it clear you want to discuss something that affects your feelings rather than starting out in an attack. There’s a vast difference between “I’d like to talk to you sometime about your drinking” versus “I’d like to talk to you about how I feel when I see you drinking so heavily.”

What are your goals?

In any heavy conversation, you need to agree at some point on common goals. Working toward the same thing will help you find your way through the conversation to that eventual place.

Keep a positive spirit

Aim for optimism. Even if the conversation isn’t going how you would like it to, finding something to hope for will soften the outcome no matter what.

Difficult conversations are just that: difficult. But having a plan in place will help you get through them.

Use these steps to build the framework of your conversation and, even if the outcome is bad, getting there won’t be as difficult as you think.

Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications.  For interview requests, click here.

Ask the Conflict Coach for help.


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