Planning a Difficult Conversation



Did I Mean What I Said or Say What I Meant?

When two people have a conversation, both come with preconceived ideas regarding how it will go. When getting started as caregivers and planning a difficult conversation about job duties, we sometimes have trouble saying what we mean. Instead of saying what we want to say, we talk about the topic and hint at what we want. Furthermore, each of us comes to the conversation with different expectations based on prior history, culture, and understanding of word definitions.

Hear Their Story 

Because each person makes up a story about how the conversation will go in advance, what they hear is often not what the other person says when the real talk happens. Instead, what they hear is what the other person says, tainted by what they expected them to say.

We all tell ourselves a story about what we hear based on how that information may affect us. Sometimes, our reaction is due to a similar event that triggers an emotional reaction.

The past event produces a powerful emotional reaction that envelopes all current interactions even though there is no direct connection with the past. As a result, we insert the former party’s motives for their word choices and body language into the story. 

Then again, how we interpret what we hear may be influenced by our mood, physical well-being, or how well we slept the night before.

We then react to the statement based on (1) what we think we heard PLUS (2) what we told ourselves about what we expected to hear. The above process happens within seconds.

Don’t Assume They Heard You.

I share this wisdom with you because we naively believe that the other person hears what we say when we speak. We also think that they will do what we asked them to do, the way we asked them to do it. (We used to believe the world was square once, too, but we got wiser.)

When talking to someone, we need to remember that the person listening to us is likely:

  • Doesn’t hear what we think we are saying.
  • We didn’t understand the meaning of what we said and how we wanted them to understand it.
  • Therefore, they probably agreed to something we didn’t say, and
  • They expect us to do something we don’t know we are supposed to do, and
  • They aren’t going to do something we expect them to do because they never heard what we said in the first place.
How Do You Prevent the Above from Happening?

Try asking them to tell you what they just heard you say, what you meant, or their understanding of what they need to do next. You might be surprised. It’s a good way to determine if your message came across correctly. Often it doesn’t. 

Putting expectations in writing helps everyone’s memory. If any details change along the way, write in the changes, and have BOTH parties initial and date the change to prevent misunderstandings.

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