Monday, September 27, 2010

Should I Have the Conversation? by Darius and Bryan

Here is a piece I coauthored with Darius C, a successful friend of mine, on when to have a difficult conversation versus letting it go. Hopefully there will be more tag team posts to come!

Imagine during one night, you and your friend are out drinking. You’re talking and then he says that there was something about the girl you’re dating that he didn’t like. He’s usually observant but perhaps he had a little too much to drink tonight. You want to say something, but are getting an uneasy feeling about it. Have you ever felt this way before?

This is a tough decision point. I would be I bring it up with them? Do I let it go? If I bring it up, how do I keep things smooth? On this post, we (Bryan and Darius) thought we’d would share some thoughts and questions that race through our heads and how we’ve seen our skilled friends smooth things out with us.

“I don’t want to appear as too cool or indifferent”
“How do I preserve the relationship, get details I want, and not appear nitpicking or indifferent?”
“Whatever, maybe he’ll feel different tomorrow”
“Did he really mean to say it like that?”
“I’m not sure we’re going to agree on this anyways”

So why are we spending time on this? Because we feel that now, relationships feel transactional and it’s too easy to disconnect with people close to you, causing unnecessary stress. We do feel the good news is that dealing with difficult topics as they arise, is a matter of skill, rather than personality. Which means that we can learn how to handle social issues well and hopefully receive good treatment too.

Frequency and intensity can be clear signs. Is this the first time you’ve heard this or do friends often bring it up? Does the person look in your eyes and raise their voice when they say this or do they look away and speak softly. We’ve noticed higher intensity or frequency of these indicate the issue probably needs addressing while lower amounts indicate that the issue is either minor or the speaker is scared to bring it up.

To put yourself back in the moment, imagine the situation fast forwarded one week. Would it still bother you? If you look at this picture, do you feel it likely that it would happen again? How much does it bother you? What sensations are you getting? If you feel angry, excited, dismayed or any feelings you wouldn’t want to experience for more than a few moments, it’s probably worth considering raising the issue. Question is, how will you bring it up? This isn’t easy stuff, but below are some approaches that we try to stick to, when sober.

“I can’t help but get the feeling that you’re upset with me. Here are a few things that I saw. Did I pay attention to the wrong details?” In this approach, I’m acknowledging that I’m feeling less than well, I haven’t come to a conclusion, that my observations are open to adjustment. Can you help square me away? Can I make you feel comfortable enough that we can talk about the issues, rather than just the observations? If I saw things incorrectly will you just let things go? A comfortable way we find to raise the topic, is to try to gain understanding, rather than find facts, or draw conclusions.

Sometimes not bringing something up is the right decision and that’s a skill too. Focusing on the positive aspects of a situation or relationship can help you move on from a minor issue and keep it from gnawing at you. We’ve found that the goal of balancing the stability of a relationship with clarity in where each stands is key. Another justification for not bringing up an issue is the fact that research has shown that people seem to need a ratio around 4:1 of positive comments to critical interactions.

In some studies, it shows you have to have at least 80% positive feedback and 20% negative, so make sure you use the 20% you have for the most important things and back off when your positive % drops below 80! Below are some questions that go through our heads when we think about bringing up an issue.

What clarity do I need? How can the other person help?
Are their actions something that may repeat itself and too difficult to reinterpret?
What is the path of least resistance?
Am I concerned with being right, or what is right?
How do you accept what’s happened?

Think of all the great things about the relationship, all the times you do agree and support each other and realize that every relationship has minor disagreements. Try to reinterpret the issue. It’s almost like googling something before going to ask about it. The key we feel is to not come to a conclusion before reaching out to them. Your observations need to be confirmed first. And if they aren’t accurate, then it may not have even been an issue. But if it is, choose to bring it up, after you’ve looked at a few angles and need some help understanding it.


Jordy Mont-Reynaud said...

Great post, guys. If more people felt empowered to have these difficult conversations in a constructive way, the world would be a better place.

For people interested in learning more about this topic, I highly recommend two books: Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations. Check out

Ian said...

If you never bring it up, you'll never know if you are misinterpreting something. I marvel at people who are able to bring up sensitive subjects in a way that makes the the other person feel glad that they did.

Bryan Yeung said...

Agreed. Jordy that's a good book. I'll look into crucial confrontations as well. Ian, I agree about individuals who can bring up tough topics and make you feel good about it too.