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Tips for dealing with difficult conversations

Tips for dealing with difficult conversations

Tips for dealing with difficult conversations

We all have to deal with difficult conversations in life but during a separation even a simple conversation can become very difficult making a hard situation even worse.  Here are some tips and guidance to help you have difficult conversations without falling into old arguments and to help make communication that little bit easier.

Generally speaking we react to difficult conversations in one of 2 ways:

  • Flight response – ignoring the situation or putting off dealing with it
  • Fight response – becoming confrontational and letting emotion drive you

If you are trying to negotiate an agreement, deal with some practical issues such as closing a joint bank account or co-parent with your ex partner neither of these reactions are going to help you, in fact, it is likely to make matters worse.  There are several things you can do to help yourself in these situations:

  1. Preparation is key

Consider the purpose of the conversation and what information you need to get across/receive.  Think about your boundaries, what compromises you would be prepared to make and what your bottom line is.  If you have these elements clearly in your mind before you start the conversation it is easier to keep yourself from getting off topic or reverting to old arguments.

Be careful not to use this stage as an excuse to put off having the conversation.  If you are one of the people who generally has a ‘flight response’ to difficult conversations it is common to want to plan out all the possible responses your ex-partner could give and your replies but this is generally a waste of time as they might not say what you were expecting.  If you have thought through your own position then you are in a good position to answer any point your ex-partner raises.  If your ex-partner does raise something from left field you can respond by saying that you will take some time to consider it.

  1. Communicate effectively

Approach the issue without delay and without skirting around the issue.  If you talk around the issue you won’t resolve it and you leave room for misunderstandings which at best mean the situation has to be revisited and at worse can escalate the issue.

There are several different method of communication which you can use so you should consider which is the best one for you and for the difficult conversation you need to have.   It can be helpful to use email or parenting apps that help you stay one step removed.  This allows you to draft something and take time to consider it with fresh eyes before pressing send.

In some cases a difficult conversation is just that, a conversation, and it is more suited to a phone call or face-to-face.  In these cases you can consider whether a more formal process such as mediation or solicitor led negotiation may be helpful.  If you are one of the people that has a ‘fight response’ then it is really important to pick a method of communication that will allow you to manage it successfully.

  1. Listen to the response

This sounds obvious, but it is easy to fall into the trap of focusing on your own arguments rather than actively listening and considering what your ex-partner has to say.  This is especially the case when you have spent a lot of time preparing for a difficult conversation so it is important to balance that valuable preparation with active listening during the conversation itself.  Whilst it may not be ‘listening’ to fully absorb anything your ex-partner sets out in an email the same logic applies.

Fully understanding your ex-partner’s position can help you to compromise and reach an agreement you are both happy with.  You may even discover that their goal is closer to yours than your bottom line.  In addition, your ex partner is likely to feel respected if you listen to their point of view even if you do not agree with it.  This will lay the ground work for better communication and negotiation in the future.

  1. Focus on the outcome

Keep in mind your goal is to have a respectful conversation.  The purpose of having a difficult conversation is to resolve an issue.  If you focus your attention on positive outcomes this can help shift your thinking process and inner dialogue to a more constructive place.  As a result it is possible to become more comfortable with difficult conversations.  This in turn can have many positive effects, including making communication whether for the purpose of co-parenting or negotiating easier.

Speak to our Family Law experts

Jessica Jupp is a Senior Associate in our family team and you can contact her to arrange a meeting to discuss any difficult conversations you may be expecting on divorce, financial matters or co-parenting on 01344 294135 or Jessica.jupp@ibblaw.co.uk.