Effective communication is hard, especially when you are trying to resolve a tricky topic where you may not agree with the other perspective (which can sometimes feel like every conversation you have during divorce).
In an effort to try to make those conversations a little easier, we’ve provided a few tips below on how to navigate those difficult discussions. Remember, these can apply to any conversation you have, not just the tricky ones!
Tip #1: Check in with your emotions
Before you even get into the conversation, take a moment and check in with yourself and how you are feeling. When you feel passionate about something (which is natural during divorce as you feel like you are fighting for your & your kids life!), you want to try to persuade the other person to change their opinion. Sometimes, this can come across as aggressive or argumentative. You may even get angry or frustrated that the other person holds an opinion that you feel is ‘selfish’.
Think about what happens when both parties come in with areas they are passionate about…
When you have two parties that feel this way, it can be hard to make progress without both of you getting very frustrated with each other.
Instead, if both of you can approach the conversation from a more grounded place, use appropriate tone and come from a place of empathy and understanding, it can help the dialogue progress more effectively.
If you have a lot of emotion around a topic (which we often do given the situation), it can help to journal, meditate or go for a walk before your conversation so you can speak from a place of calmness. If you can gain some control over your emotions, you often express yourself more clearly and better navigate the discussion.
Tip #2: Listen
Listening is a key part of tip #1’s effectiveness. Letting the other person speak freely and actively listening to them can help them release some of the heat from their argument and perhaps be more receptive to your calm and grounded thoughts.
Listening without reacting if someone is heated can be hard but do your best to give the other person your attention. Try to let go of your feelings for the moment and hear what the other person is saying. At a minimum, you will gain some valuable information about where the other person is coming from that can help you negotiate.
If you feel things are going south, try to let the other person know that you are interested in what they are saying. Ask a non-emotional question that shows you are trying to understand. Repeat what you are hearing to make sure you have processed correctly.
“Being heard is so close to being loved for the average person, they’re almost indistinguishable”
– David Augsburger, author of the Love of Letting Be.
Tip #3: Be open to the other perspective
As much as we hate to say this, we are not right all of the time and may not always think logically (what?!?). Research has shown our decisions may not be that logical after all. Studies suggest that emotions play a role in the position you take in an argument and people naturally have a confirmation bias (where you are more likely to listen to/hear information that confirms you position).
A lot of this is driven by society. Outside influences put a lot of importance on getting things right. Getting good scores on tests, not making mistakes with our careers, striving for perfection… We really have to work to step out of the feeling of being ‘right’ but if we can be more open to hearing the other perspective, even if you don’t agree, it may help you get to what you need.
Tip #4: Know when (and what) to say
Before you speak, take a pause and reflect on the intent of your comment. Is it emotionally driven (tip #1)? Have you listened to the other person (tip #2)? Does it leverage any of your personal biases (tip #3)? If you’re good on all of these, think about the intent of what you are going to say. Does it help you progress toward a resolution? If yes, speak up.
When you speak, try to use ‘I’ statements. Not only are they less confrontational, but they also can help the other person connect to you. Try to use stories that focus on the things you have in common (possibly more than you think) and express why you hold your opinion. Storytelling can help you build bridges and express your perspective without starting an argument. It’s a great tool to leverage to help us stay true to our beliefs while also remaining open to other opinions and beliefs. By telling the story of your perspective, it can give the other person a better understanding of the reasons behind your thinking.
As we stated at the beginning, communication is hard. Especially when you are trying to have a challenging conversation with someone during or after divorce. These can be high stakes conversations where you want to bring your best foot forward. Try practicing these tips in lower stakes conversations as much as possible so you are an expert when you really need them.
It takes time but with some practice, an open mind and a somewhat willing partner (all you need is a little!), you can effectively navigate these challenging conversations!