Most divorces involve difficult conversations, both before the decision to divorce and after. Negotiating an acceptable divorce settlement may involve difficult conversations. Having the assistance of an experienced divorce mediator can help.
There are many good books on how to approach difficult conversations. Here are some tips:
Before the Conversation
Work on yourself before the conversation. Ask yourself some questions:
- What is your purpose for having the conversation and what would be a good outcome? If your purpose is to win the conversation, that will likely result in conflict. Enter the conversation with a purpose that supports you and the other person.
- Are you perhaps more emotional than the situation warrants? Are any of your “buttons” being pushed? Is some of your personal history being triggered? Perhaps you have some responsibility for your heightened emotional state and you can avoid (at least to some extent) “blaming” it on the other person.
- How have you contributed to the situation? It helps to come to the conversation with a relatively humble state of mind.
- What are your needs and fears concerning the other person and the conversation?
- Do you have a pessimistic attitude and assume that the conversation will not go well? This could be self-fulfilling. Find a way to be optimistic that some good will come of it.
- Are you making any assumptions about the other person’s intentions based on their actions? Are you certain your assumptions are correct?
- Step into the shoes of the other person. What might they be thinking about the situation? What are their needs and fears? What solutions might they suggest or be receptive to? Think of the other person as a partner rather than an opponent.
- Do the two of you have any common concerns?
In the Conversation
Throughout the conversation, work to stay in charge of yourself and your emotional energy. Breathe and try to find a calm, centered state. Notice when you become off-center and choose to return. This will also help the other person stay calm.
Step 1 – Inquiry
Cultivate an attitude of discovery and curiosity. Ask questions to learn about their point of view, feelings, needs and concerns. Let them talk until they’re finished. Whatever you hear, try not to take it personally. Learn as much as you can.
Step 2 – Acknowledgment
Then show them that you’ve heard and understood. Explain back to them what you think they want and where they are coming from. If you don’t get it quite right, accept their corrections. If they feel really heard, they’re likely to be more flexible and open to solutions.
Step 3 – Your Turn
When you sense that they feel heard and they’ve expressed all their energy on the situation, it’s your turn. Explain from your perspective what they’ve missed. Clarify your position without discounting or minimizing theirs.
Step 4 – Solutions
If the previous three steps have gone reasonably well, you can begin considering solutions together. Ask the other person for their ideas. Whatever they say, try to find some aspect you like and build on it. If the conversation becomes adversarial, go back to the inquiry step.
- You can maximize your chances of success in two ways: how you are and what you say. If you can stay centered, supportive, curious and solution-oriented, you are more likely to say things that are productive and minimally reactive for the other person.
- Acknowledge emotional energy – yours and theirs – and direct it towards a useful purpose.
- Know and return to your purpose at difficult moments.
- It may help to mentally practice the conversation. Or see various possibilities and visualize yourself handling them with ease. Or practice the conversation with a friend beforehand.