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Posted by in The Cool Communicator

Will Your Relationship Succeed?

Will Your Relationship Succeed?

Joseph Grenny Co-Author of “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High”

For decades people have suggested that relationships typically fail because individuals disagree about politics, child rearing, sex or religion. At first blush, this makes sense because these topics matter a great deal to us. In truth, the extent to which two people disagree on key topics doesn’t predict relationship success. All couples disagree about a whole host of issues, and yet, not every relationship is tortured.

What actually affects the quality of your relationship is not if you disagree but how you disagree. When caught up in a heated discussion, the words you choose, the tone you take, the tactics you employ, are more important to your relationship than the content of the argument itself. If you know how to say it, you can say almost anything to almost anybody. And you can do it in a way that actually strengthens your relationship.

How about you? With your significant other in mind, answer the following questions.

  1. Do the two of you shy away from talking about certain topics because they typically lead to an unhealthy discussion?
    Yes
    No
  2. When you care a lot about an issue, does one or both of you push a bit too hard or maybe even try to bully your way through the argument?
    Yes
    No
  3. Rather than push and possibly offend, does one or both of you back off your stance and not even get heard?
    Yes
    No
  4. Do you ever feel bad about how you treated the other person during an emotional discussion?
    Yes
    No
  5. When the stakes are high, does one or both of you use debate tactics or otherwise try to win your arguments?
    Yes
    No
  6. If the feedback you want to give to each other is harsh, do you lessen the blow by understating or sugar coating the message?
    Yes
    No
  7. When you disagree over a choice (say a movie or restaurant) does one of you tend to get his or her way more often than the other?
    Yes
    No
  8. After an argument, does either of you end up apologizing for how you treated the other person?
    Yes
    No
  9. Rather than face a possible heated discussion, do either of you clam up and then seek relief by venting with a best friend, relative, or confidant?
    Yes
    No
  10. Do you find yourself having to choose between being frank and possibly offending the other person and backing off and not saying what you’d like to say?
    Yes
    No

If you answered “yes” to five or more of these questions, then your relationship is at risk. Each of the ten questions is an example of what happens when you can’t candidly speak your mind without causing problems. If in order to make your point you have to sugar coat a message, or force your opinion, your relationship ends up taking a beating.

The good news is that there are skills you can learn to help you speak your mind, no matter the topic. Here are seven steps you can take to enhance your ability to master crucial conversations.

Talk about talking. Talk to your significant other about how you talk to each other. Don’t wait until you’re upset at each other, do it when you’re calm and collected. Talk about what works and doesn’t. Commit to learning more.

Think we. Don’t focus on what the other person does wrong. You’re in this together. Instead, talk about your typical unhealthy interactions and what you both do when you’re not on your best behavior.

Stop and try again. If you find yourself becoming upset during a crucial conversation, stop, apologize and try again.

Know when to talk. When your emotions kick in, your brain starts to shut down and you’re highly unlikely to succeed in even the most simple of conversations. So, if you’re emotions start running high, stop. Wait until you’re calm and then try again.

Focus on what you want. When conversations start to turn ugly, it’s because we change our goals. We start with the healthy goal of coming to a decision we both can support, but our motive often degenerates to trying to get our way, win, or even harm the other person. As things turn south, stop and ask: “What do I really want for myself, the other person and for the relationship?” Then act as if you do.

Don’t settle for second best.When we either clam up or blow up we often tell ourselves we had no choice. “They don’t listen if I don’t shout.” Or “Of course, I said nothing. If I were to be honest, it would be a disaster.” While it may be true that you currently don’t know how to speak without causing offense or defensiveness, it doesn’t mean that it can’t be done.

Study and learn. Finally, take the time to learn from the best. The skills required for dealing with delicate issues, controversial topics, and unpopular stances are no longer a secret. Not only did we write an entire book on this topic, “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High”, but we encourage you to log onto our Web site at www.crucialconversations.com to learn more about acquiring the skills you need to improve your valued relationships.

(c) 2009 VitalSmarts. All Rights Reserved. VitalSmarts, Crucial, Crucial Skills, and Style Under Stress are trademarks and Crucial Conversations is a registered trademark of VitalSmarts, L.C

Author Joseph Grenny is the coauthor of the New York Times bestseller, “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High” (McGraw-Hill). He is a sought-after speaker, consultant and cofounder of VitalSmarts, an innovator in corporate training and organizational performance. www.vitalsmarts.com

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