June 1, 2009
You can have an important discussion with your partner go well when you prepare yourself, seek first to understand, and end it with gratitude and followup.
Any good meeting has the following components: preparation, invitation, discussion, resolution, commendation, and evaluation. Use these components if you want to have a good meeting about a serious issue with your significant other. Typically, the issues could include parenting, intimacy, finances, time together, career, division of labor, in-laws, or cordial communication.
Step 1: Preparation
This is the time you spend by yourself with outlining or writing the content of the meeting. Use an 8 ½ by 11 notepad. Estimate the time needed for the amount of content and the depth of discussion. The content may be one topic or several, or a part of a topic.
Expect a positive outcome. At the very least that you will have learned something. Prepare for 3 basic responses: positive, neutral, or negative. Whatever the response, you can plan on where to go from there. If it’s negative, you need to be able to accept disappointment, attempt to negotiate, and not fight when your partner makes a nonnegotiable choice.
Take time to mentally rehearse the way you’d like the discussion to go. Play a scene where it goes well, and where you handle things well if things don’t go as you’d like. However, end your mental imagery with a pleasant scene. Also, give yourself encouragement such as: “I can and will deal with this no matter how it turns out….This is the right thing for me to do.”
Step 2: Invitation
You invite your partner to talk by mentioning the topic and asking for a meeting at a mutually convenient time and place—a place without distraction. This is not the time to go into a lengthy discussion, even if your partner wants to. You may give an overview in a few sentences, and politely defer a detailed discussion.
Step 3: Discussion
Bring your notepad. Being able to present your issue succinctly and then listen very well are the essential skills needed. This is a tall order, but you have to start somewhere. This is the time when you need to “seek first to understand.” You need to deal with your sensitive ego, and leave defensiveness and argumenta-tiveness at the door, or the discussion will fizzle. Hint: Erase the word “but” from your vocabulary.
It is very important to not go over the appointed amount of time, unless you and your partner find this acceptable. Also, it is crucial to take a break or end the discussion for the time-being if either of you become overly emotional, especially if you’re angry or very anxious. Anger fuels conflict and criticism, which will surely bring trouble. If you’re too nervous, you won’t be able to concentrate.
Step 4: Resolution
The aim of the discussion is to come to a resolution that either solves the problem, resumes the discussion at some point, or helps you find a way to accept a disappointing decision and move on. Summarize both positions and set a time for follow-up.
Step 5: Commendation
No matter how the discussion goes, make sure you express some appreciation for the time and effort your partner has made in meeting and talking with you. You can say “Thank you for talking with me…for being honest…for your willingness to work this out….” Even if you hear something very disturbing, when you end on some kind of positive note, you are more likely to have a partner who is willing to return to the issue, or move on in a more cooperative manner.
Step 6: Evaluation
After your discussion, analyze what went well and what you could have done differently. Remember that no matter what happened, you can get something out of it. You can learn from it. Make sure to give yourself due credit for both initiating the discussion and for any positive results that ensued.
Above all, remember why you wanted the discussion in the first place. Always keep your goal in mind, even if your goal now needs to change. When you do this, you will feel stronger, more focused, and more organized.
Here are some key steps you can take to work toward a good serious talk:
1st Find a good time and place. Make sure you mentally prepare yourself for a positive outcome no matter what happens.
2nd Always take the high road and refuse to let the discussion deteriorate. Strive to be open, non-defensive, very respectful, and an excellent listener. You alone are in control of you.
3rd End the discussion on a positive note, and follow-up as needed.