Speaking what is true for you and listening for what is true for another person can lead to internal change and relationship growth. I call this an honest conversation. We do not want to go into honest, difficult conversations because we are afraid. We are afraid that an honest conversation might damage the relationship. We are afraid we might be misunderstood, get hurt, or hurt someone else.
Honest conversations can pave the way to deeper relationships and better understanding. With this checklist, you can decrease the chance that you will get stuck in a nonstop, swirling, angry stew of a conversation. Following these steps will increase the potential for things to change for the better.
This checklist does not guarantee the conversation will be easy. Honest conversations are hard. They require courage. You cannot determine someone else’s response beforehand. You cannot protect yourself from vulnerability if you are going to be truly honest.
Here’s how to prepare for an honest conversation:
What are your intentions?
Ask yourself: Why do you want to have this conversation? What are you asking for? What do you need or want? Check in with yourself and see if you can identify your truest motives, hopes, desires and fears.
Are you tired?
If you are sleepy, DO NOT have the conversation. Get more sleep. If you try to have a big conversation when you are sleep deprived the result will be more intense and emotional than it needs to be. Meanings get twisted in our sleepy brains. Things seem grander and get blown out of proportion. Handling complexity is hard when you are tired.
If you must have the conversation while tired (perhaps you are a new parent) then be as gentle as you can and say that you are lacking in sleep.
Are you hungry?
Wait! If you are hungry, go eat. Eat some protein. Do not attempt a big, honest conversation with low blood sugar. It just does not work out well, ever.
Are you calm?
I know it is hard to be calm if you need to talk about something profoundly upsetting. “Calm” in this case does not mean you are not feeling emotions. You may feel sad or angry. That is okay. You can feel and express emotion from a place that is centered inside yourself. If you feel yourself getting red hot, take a few breaths. Take a break from the conversation. Locate your belly and feel it move with the breath. Locate your heart and feel it pump.
What are you feeling?
Knowing what you are feeling will help you be clear about your needs. Identify the first feeling. Then explore other underlying emotions. If you are angry, why? Do you also feel jealous? Hurt? Afraid? If you are feeling sad, do you also feel confused? Ashamed? Let down? Alone?
You do not need to tell the other person how you are feeling. Being open about your feelings depends on the person you are talking to. Is it appropriate to share your feelings with this person? Do you want to trust them with your feelings? Even if you do not share your feelings, figure out what they are.
How much do you want to share?
You can have an honest conversation and not share everything. A lot depends on the context. Make your decisions based on the other person’s ability to hold your vulnerability without judgment. At work, it is important to be careful about how much you share, and with whom. Most workplaces do not hold the space or time for that level of relationship between coworkers or supervisors.
Are you ready to hear the other person?
Are you ready to hear what they have to say? What they need? What they are experiencing?
Are you prepared to give something up based on what you learn and hear?
If you cannot do this kind of deep preparation, then you are not preparing for a conversation. You are looking for a way to drop a bomb. And that will not allow for mutual growth or change.
While you are having the conversation and afterwards, find ways to be gentle to yourself.
Take care of yourself and give yourself time and space to reflect on the conversation.
What did you learn? What do you still desire? Can you find forgiveness?
Honest conversations take practice. They are not easy. They require courage.
We are all capable of having more honest conversations in our lives.
If we do, things will change for the better in the long run.