Welcome back to the Journey Podcast! In this episode, Jeff and Terry explain how to move from difficult relationships to healthy ones.
Transcription of the Podcast
What happens through the conflict through the movie, the people develop, you see the characters more clearly, they may be grown, they change, they move, they evolve. There’s something that happens through the conflict that makes them better and stronger and movie more interesting.
So think of… A lot of people out there trying to run as fast and as far away from conflict in this kind of difficult relationships as possible. I’m suggesting you kind of dive into them a little bit. Don’t cause them necessarily, but dive into them and try to figure out how can I grow from this? How can our relationship grow from this conflict?
Hey, hey, hey, we’re here for another Journey podcast, and we’re talking about really a core kind of a thing here. It’s something that’s very difficult. It’s something that a lot of people shy away from, and that is difficult conversations. I’m Jeff. I’m sitting here with Terry.
Hi Terry. So, yeah, difficult conversations. I mean they are kind of hanging out there consistently. How many times or how many instances are there when you go through a day, a week, a month where there’s actually not a difficult conversation that could be had?
Not too many.
Not too many at all.
And this is a followup to one that we did a little while ago on difficult conversations. We could call this number two.
Yeah, number two, and there’s probably number five, 10, 40. I mean there’s a ton of these really to unpack. We had somebody ask specifically after hearing the first podcast we did about difficult conversations… A question came up, and so let’s just jump in and kind of try to tackle these, because, again, this is something that’s not really that easy to do, right? It’s a lot easier to talk about sports or what’s the latest movie, you know, that cool.
Sometimes it even seems like as tough as politics is, it can be easier to talk about politics than those things that are really bothering us and deeply concerning us in terms of a relationship with another person.
So the question was say there’s someone… Say if I need to bring up an area in my life of hurt or frustration, there’s just some shortfall, you could even call it a sense of misunderstanding, something that’s really, really on my mind and my heart, and there’s this fear that the relationship really can’t handle that kind of a hard conversation. In fact, it might not even be the same relationship if I did bring it up, that the relationship might dissolve or become more distant.
So what are some ideas of really navigating through something like that, of really getting into that kind of a conversation?
Yeah, I think that’s… Definitely that’s one of the things that kind of brings fear and trembling to most people. When you think about it, really I think it depends a lot on the individual situation. When I work in my office… I’m a counselor and I deal with a lot of different things, and I don’t like to give advice until I hear the situation specifically, so this is kind of a tough one to give advice on.
Well, and can I just jump in too, because that was key, what you said. You never give advice until you hear what’s going on. How oftentimes in life do I or others may be that aren’t as attuned to… That has sort of that listening ear that you do, give advice?
And that’s kind of the first thing, right? We hear something, we jump right in, hey, here’s the solution. I got it. I got it figured out, and we don’t even have all the… We don’t have all the facts. We don’t even know what’s going on.
Right. A lot of arguments happen that way. It’s like you hear just a little bit of what somebody is trying to say and you react to that little bit even before they’re done talking. I mean how many people out there have actually found themselves talking over somebody, jumping into the conversation-
What do you mean, like jumping over, like right now? I got that… Oh like that? Okay. I just wanted to show how that works. Go ahead, Terry. I’m listening.
Well, and I think what happens is we hear a part of the conversation, we think we know what they’re going to say next… And this happens a lot with couples who have been married for a long time, in fact, the longer you’ve been married, the more likely you are to finish each other’s sentences.
Anyway, when you think about it from that standpoint it’s like okay, I hear something and maybe it’s something at the dinner table or maybe it’s something… You know, you’ve got family coming over for Thanksgiving and uncle so-and-so says something and he starts going off on politics or religion or something like that, and people immediately roll their eyes and start jumping into the conversation, and before you know it uncle so-and-so is yelling and you’re yelling and the whole table is kind of getting ready to scramble and leave. Those are really, really tough kind of conversations.
Well, and it’s that sort of setting it up. It’s that environment, right? Because it sounds like it’s probably not a good idea to bring up those tough conversations just randomly at the Thanksgiving table and say, “Hey, Uncle Joe, who I had this thing I wanted to talk about for years, let’s just bring it up in front of everybody.”
Yeah, that’s not… Timing is everything. Picking the right timing that says… Maybe take Uncle Joe aside at one point and talk to him and just say, “Hey, there’s something that I want to talk to you about and this has really been weighing on my heart,” and just kind of talk to Uncle Joe from your heart about what it’s like when these things happen.
Something that I have found helps is if I say to somebody, “Hey, there’s just a couple of things that I’ve kind of been thinking about actually kind of bother me a little bit here,” or whatever it might be… You know, just be honest and say, “Hey, something has been bothering me. Can we just grab a cup of coffee, and when would be a good time for you,” so put in… Again, trying to be very open to the person’s schedule and making it a very comfortable kind of a… As comfortable as possible situation.
Just say, “Hey, can we just grab a cup of coffee? When’s a good time that works for you,” so they have a little time… You might even say, “You know, we’ve been dealing with this thing about,” it might be a brother and sister. They say, “We’ve been talking about this situation about mom for a long time. Can we just sit down and you and I can just talk about that?”
Is that a good way to kind of just set up the conversation for success, because people both who are going into it kind of know what happens?
Yeah. You kind of give them a little bit of an idea of what your direction is that you’re kind of… What the agenda is, so to speak.
Yeah. Yeah. This just seems so from what I’ve seen out there very unusual, because, again, it’s just easier to let things slide, but they don’t really slide, do they? I mean-
Not entirely. I think the other thing to kind of keep in mind does hone your listening skills as much as possible. That’s one of the things that we’ve kind of gotten away from doing. We do a lot of talking and not so much listening and realizing that everybody wants to be heard and they want to be understood, even Uncle Joe, even uncle so-and-so at the dinner table.
One of the reasons he’s bringing up the things is because he wants to be heard and understood, and if we jump in and jump over him and cut him down and shut him off, my guess is he’s only going to get louder and he’s only going to get more obnoxious because he has… Just like you and I, we all have a desperate need to be heard and understood.
So talk the time to listen to uncle so-and-so. Find out what it is… Okay, why is this so important to you that this person gets elected or that people understand this fact that you’re trying to impart. You don’t have to change your opinion, but I think listening and understanding where he’s coming from can help him feel heard and understood.
It’s funny when you’re saying that I think back to… And then you were in the room, Terry when this gal said this. But we were talking about a similar kind of topic and she said, “Well how can I love my neighbor when I don’t even like my neighbor?”
Yeah, that’s a tough one.
And sometimes I think ought we not just push through the well I really don’t… It’s hard to feel the love, but I can just… That person is important, I mean they’re an important human being. I may really disagree with them, but they’re still a person that I can care for, and to take that intentional, even though it might feel a little awkward kind of a step to say, “Can’t we just sit down and talk about this, because you’re important, this matter that we need to talk about is important.”
Does that… I don’t know. Does it just seem like that is one of those kinds of intentional things to do that always doesn’t feel that natural maybe?
No. For sure. But I think understanding people and where they come from and trying to hear their heart on an issue or on whatever is going on can help us to bridge that gap. I think part of the reason we may not like our neighbor is that we don’t really know them that well, or we know some things about them and we don’t like those things but we don’t… I think a lot of times we make a whole bunch of assumptions, that if I was in this situation I would do these things. Since they’re not doing those things, there must be something wrong with them.
I think we just have to check to… Besides listening, I think checking your assumptions is really, really huge in working through difficult conversations. Check your assumptions, especially motives. If somebody does something that’s different than what you think they should check your assumptions of their motives. Why do I think they’re doing that? It may not be accurate.
All right. Right. Right. Well, yeah, so that’s kind of huge too, right? Because somebody doesn’t call me back multiple times and I assume they’re just blowing me off or… Again, it comes to the negative a lot of times, right? But until I really find out oh, they’ve been out of the country for a month, they couldn’t call me back, you know.
I mean this has happened a lot. I’ll talk to people in my office and they’ll say, “You know, I made a mistake the other day. I blew up somebody’s messages. I messaged them, they didn’t message me back, and so I assumed that they didn’t care anymore and so I just sent a whole bunch of really nasty messages.”
That doesn’t ever happen.
Guess what happened to that relationship.
No, it’s not… And I think it all fell down to the fact that she made an assumption or he made an assumption, whoever it was made an assumption that the other person was blowing them off, and in fact, they were sleeping or something, you know, less destructive than that.
Right. So, Terry, anything else then that kind of relates to this that you’d like to put out there?
Yeah. I think it’s really important that we consider… I like to use the analogy of a pebble dropping in a pond. When you’re out in the woods or whatever and you see this nice little pond and you take a pebble and you toss it in, if you pay attention to it you see that this little ring of water, this little ripple just kind of starts where to pebble is and it goes out and then there’s more ripples and more ripples, and you see this really beautiful pattern of ripples all going from the center where the pebble is out to towards… It’ll go all the way to end of whatever pond you’ve got, it takes that much energy.
I think that’s a really neat analogy for relationships because if you think about everything that you say or do has that kind of pebble and ripple effect, if I say something kind to my neighbor hopefully the ripples that follow out, the way that they receive it is kindness.
If I get really, really short with my neighbor because they’ve put their trash and it’s fallen over into my yard, instead of going kindly and talk to them I just kind of get really snippy or snarky with them, that’s probably going to ripple out in a snarky sort of way.
Right. Right. It sounds like, using sort of a farming analogy, the farmer, he plants, he sows, and then there’s a harvest, there’s reaping. So it’s sort of along that line, isn’t it, which is actually in the Bible. I mean it talks about sowing and reaping.
If you plant seeds of corn you’re not going to harvest wheat. You’re going to harvest corn hopefully.
Yeah. So if you really plant positive, affirming, those kinds of good things, ought there not to be more of that good that comes back to you? Not always, right, because there’s always going to be that… You know, this is not a perfect world, but odds are lots more goodput out there, a lot more good coming back.
Right. And realizing you don’t have control over how it comes back. You can do what you can to control the message that you’re sending out, but once you send it out its kind of like that ripple. It just takes a life of its own. You may say something in a very kind way and uncle so-and-so takes offense at it and he comes back with it. A healthy relationship will be kind of well wait a minute, uncle, I didn’t mean it to offend you. How did you take what I just said and… Well, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you.
You may not be sorry for what you said, but you can definitely be sorry for the fact that it affected him the way it did.
Uh-huh. So what do I do when somebody confronts me? I mean they say, “You know, you keep doing this thing to me,” or, “What about this that’s going on what you?” I mean what do I-
Yeah. If you’re uncle so-and-so?
Yeah. If I’m Uncle Joe.
Well, I think if somebody confronts Uncle Jeff, then I think Uncle Jeff really needs to listen. I go back to that word of listening and just-
What’s that? Okay.
There’s something underneath the confrontation. There’s something that’s at the heart of what it is. Try to hear what their heart is and try not to take offense. Put the offensiveness on hold.
Okay. Deep breath. Yes. Okay, because I want to get right back at it. I want to just respond. Okay. Okay, deep breath and listen. Got you.
If you can put the defensiveness on hold and try to listen with curiosity it’s almost impossible, if not impossible, to be curious and defensive.
If you can try to stay curious… Oh, wait a minute, I’m starting to feel a little bit defensive, but wait a minute, if I can stay curious and figure out why did that offend her, why does it offend people, then you might get to the heart of the issue a little bit easier and save that relationship.
Right. Right. Yeah. It’s just stuff here that is just… I love talking about this because it’s not talked about a lot, right?