6 Ways to Keep a Conversation From Getting Derailed
Holidays are supposed to be a time of love and joy when you gather and celebrate family, friends, and traditions. Those celebrations can easily be derailed when you find yourself in an uncomfortable or controversial conversation.
There’s no shortage of hot topics to navigate around if you want to have a peaceful gathering with friends and family. But try as you may, you just might find yourself discussing a divisive issue. You know you and a loved one aren’t on the same page about this topic, and you’re ok with that, but you probably don’t want a conversation to hurt the relationship. So, how do you stop the conversation before it goes too far?
Kathleen Kelley Reardon, a professor at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business, notes that “conversations are building blocks of relationships.” They have the power to build up or tear down relationships.
Here are six of Reardon’s strategies to help you get a negative conversation back on track (just in time for the holidays):
1. Shine a different light on what’s being said.
If the other person says, “I don’t want to fight about this,” you can reply with, “I don’t want to fight either. Let’s have a discussion.” A discussion is seen as more civil. A conversation that evolves into an argument causes both people to put their guard up. A discussion, on the other hand, invites more listening.
2. Rephrase what’s being said.
Instead of calling someone stubborn, call them persistent or determined. If they say, “You’ve got a lot to say,” you might respond, “I’m passionate about this subject and want to make sure every side is heard.” If offensive words are used, rephrase them positively.
3. Reflect on a positive past experience.
Relationships are full of positive and negative interactions. A present negative doesn’t have to tear down a mostly positive past. If you need to pump the brakes, you might say, “We’ve had such a good relationship, but something has us out of sync. I know we can work this out in a positive way.”
This shows the other person that you value and want to protect what you have with them.
4. Clarify what you heard by restating what the other person said.
We’re all guilty of speaking faster than our brain can work. I know I’ve said plenty of hurtful things that I wish I could take back. If you think they have mistakenly said something painful, ask them, “Did you mean what I think I heard?” Give them the benefit of reconsidering and rephrasing what they said.
5. Ask a question.
Maybe your friend or family member didn’t mean to intentionally hurt or insult you. Perhaps they chose words too quickly. Ask, “Would you clarify what you just said?” Try not to assume they are determined to cause you harm. Give the relationship the benefit of the doubt.
6. Revisit the conversation at a later time.
There’s nothing wrong with bluntly saying, “I don’t think either of us is at our best right now. Can we pause this conversation and revisit it another day? I don’t want this to hurt our relationship.” Your consideration for the person is more valuable than who wins the discussion. Choose to protect the relationship.
Remember, conversations are building blocks to help us get to know each other better. They are how we deepen and develop relationships. Do what you can to keep one heated exchange from destroying a lifelong relationship. It’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting to be correct, but do you want to be right, or do you want to be in a relationship? You can’t always have both.
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