By Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt
Wherever you stand on the political landscape, chances are that someone very close to you fundamentally disagrees. America is working through one of the most politically divisive times in our history, which is leading to uncomfortable conversations and serious disagreements between friends and family. It’s often hard to maintain a healthy relationship without extra barriers, but today’s politics have pushed a lot of buttons that have challenged even the strongest bonds.
To have a good relationship with the people they love, people must be free to express their feelings. This is what we call a Safe Conversation, one where both parties can openly express their differences without being judged or criticized. Based on the most advanced relational and neurological science, Safe Conversations are designed to heal relationships, strengthen communities, and ultimately raise the joy index of entire cities.
The next time you feel stuck in an awkward conversation with someone you care about, try these steps as a starting point for a Safe Conversation and watch how quickly the pressure subsides.
Make an appointment to honor boundaries.
Whether you want to have a Safe Conversation with your spouse, child, friend, or neighbor, the first step is setting a specific time to talk. Potentially difficult conversations can get out of hand quickly when they are impromptu, but agreeing on a time and place to discuss a tough issue formalizes boundaries. This foundation of respect sets a positive tone to make way for a healthy back-and-forth.
Define the topic.
For a conversation to be productive, the topic has to be clear and specific. Otherwise, the human brain jumps to a paranoid state of mind. It’s much more comfortable to know you’re meeting to discuss a defined subject than it is to be vaguely asked to just “meet.” In the first scenario, you know what to expect. In the second scenario, most people immediately jump to an exaggerated conclusion and start to envision worst case scenarios. Defining the topic of a conversation in advance removes the fear and worry that can build up in uncertain terrain.
When listening, mirror and validate the speaker.
After the speaker has stated their opinion, respond with, “What I hear you saying is XYZ.” This maintains accuracy and lets the speaker know you understand them. So often, we don’t express ourselves clearly enough and are misunderstood. Mirroring puts a quick stop to those misunderstandings. If both parties still don’t agree, that’s okay—the most important thing is making the speaker feel understood, which is one of the most crucial components in a healthy relationship. Once the speaker knows you get what they’re saying, you have built a bridge to validate them. Acknowledge that even if you don’t agree, you can see why they think what they think.
When speaking, use “I” statements.
Political conversations escalate because people feel judged, attacked, and hurt. They then attack back or withdraw from the relationship. To avoid making the person you care about feel criticized, speak using “I” statements instead of “you” statements. Don’t list the ways you think their ideas are off the wall; instead, tell them how you feel. “You” statements are about accusation and blame, which creates separation. “I” statements take personal responsibility and ownership while expressing what you think and feel. This lets us share honestly without hurting the other party.
It’s absolutely possible to fully connect with people despite your differences, but to open that door, you have to believe it’s possible. A negative attitude is the fastest roadblock to productive conversation, so over the next 30 days, try taking the Zero Negativity Challenge. Teach yourself to notice negativity and then “redo the transaction” by mentally changing gears to become positive again. There is an overwhelming amount of negativity in the world, but you can change that—starting with yourself.
To learn even more about how to to talk without criticizing, listen without judging, and connect beyond differences, visit our website where you’ll see information on a free, full-day workshop that will stream all over the world.
About Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt
Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt are the creators of Safe Conversations® | Relationships First™, a nonprofit that envisions a world where everyone feels safe, valued and connected. Conceived by today’s most successful and respected therapists, relationship experts and authors, the organization delivers a groundbreaking relational methodology that helps relationships succeed. This revolutionary technology increases relational intelligence in homes, schools, congregations and the workplace. More information is available at http://safeconversations.org.