True, Kind, Necessary: How to have difficult conversations and develop better relationships


Imagine a stool, three legs that hold up the seat. Without one of the legs, the stool becomes unstable.

When thinking about True, Kind Necessary in respect to conversations, it’s important to remember to use these ideas together in order to have the best outcome. In happy and agreeing conversations we don’t even have to think about these qualities, because we are having fun and we are not threatening someone else’s view point or sense of themselves. Intent and Impact are very important, especially in difficult conversations or situations. Often times we bring our judgment, ego and opinions into the arena and while we may have a positive intent, we can end up having a negative impact.

True – Obviously we want to be honest in our handling of information and give honest reflection to people. It also helps to truthfully communicate our own feeling and experience, without telling others how they feel, what there intent was, or judging their behavior as the issue. Ask yourself some questions: What is the story I am telling myself about this situation? Am I making any assumptions? Do I have enough information or are there other questions I need to get info on? Am I exaggerating or escalating the truth?

We can rapidly set people up to feel attacked and when that happens, they either tunes us out or we engage them in an argument.  Also, if I am telling you a truth, from my perspective, and I am unkind in my delivery, or it’s really not my place to share my truth, I run a very real risk of landing poorly on you and feeding a fight.  I may be generating a drama story that won’t do me or anyone any good.

Kind – This is the level of how we approach a conversation with compassion and gentleness. We might be sharing our truth without thought to other people’s feelings. In conversations that we have with others we can inadvertently hurt peoples feelings, Intent/Impact. This is especially true in the texting, typing, IM’ing medium. People can’t read our non-verbal body language, we may not even know each other, and so we end responding to things based on how we feel the message is coming at us. If it’s a difficult situation, people may already be defensive. Kindness is about intention. We can decide if our intention is to be helpful or hurtful. If it’s to be helpful and our message still lands poorly, apologizing for the unintended outcome is kindness too.

Necessary – It may take a few questions to yourself to figure out this one:  Why are we vested in sharing our perspective? What’s our goal for the conversation?  Have we been asked for feedback? Or, are we trying to ‘teach’ someone something we think we need to know? Is what we’re about to say, for the greater good of the person we are speaking/writing to?  I also like to ask myself, “Is what I am about to say, think or do, going to take me closer to my goal or farther away?”

There are definitely times that we do need to speak up, maybe we see a way to help someone be more efficient or correct something. Or, we may be setting a healthy boundary on how others speak to us, or what we are willing or not willing to do for someone. The more necessary the conversation is, typically the more painful it runs the risk of being. Which is why adding the elements of True and Kind can help the conversation go better for all parties.

In communication there is another area to consider. Let’s call this the fourth leg of the stool, increasing stability.

Timing – Are you calling someone out in public or private? Are you giving them time to respond or pushing for an instant response? Can you have a face-to-face conversation, even if we are talking Skype versus an email argument or texting war?

Think about our own timing; are we hungry, tired, overwhelmed, or not feeling well? All these factors will effect how we bring ourselves to any difficult conversation.

Giving ourselves time to cool down before responding is helpful too. If I get fired up about something, my brain floods with Adrenaline and Cortisol and increases my reactivity, while decreasing my ability to think through a situation.  Have you ever had an intense conversation and then later think of all the things you wished you had said instead? If I give myself an hour or a day before responding, I have time to engage my thinking brain again and I may come up with a much better response.

We can all get HiJacked by our brain.

Even using these tools will not guarantee a 100% positive outcome in every situation. But, your odds of a better conversation are greatly increased.





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