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Talking About Talking: Creating the Conditions for Great Conversations by Jeff Williams

Aug 5th, 2009 | By | Category: Family Coaching Center

“Is this a good time to talk?”

I really appreciate the courtesy of my colleagues and clients when they call.  Before assuming that I am available to focus on their needs they respectfully ask if I am agreeable to having a conversation.  I especially like it when they introduce the conversation with parameters, “I need 5 minutes to ask you a few questions”, or, “I estimate that we’ll need 15 minutes.” It takes less than thirty seconds to understand their request and to decide if I can be my best. If not, we schedule a mutually agreeable time to have the conversation.

How many misunderstandings, arguments and hurt feelings could be avoided by practicing this simple courtesy in our homes?

Jill and I think that the longer we live together the more liberties we’re apt to take with each other, and the less likely we are to practice the manners that we used while dating.  How about a show of hands?  Ok, I’ll raise my own. I’m guilty…to my own detriment.  Sometimes I try to have quick conversations without listening well to Jill because I am tired, distracted or have a low energy level.  Equally, she’ll admit that sometimes she tries to talk with me about complex or emotional topics before considering if the conditions are good for such a demanding conversation.  The point is that a few moments spent to assess if it is a good time to talk and to set the parameters for the conversation can save hours of painful disconnection, and help us to have higher quality conversations.

“Honey, is this a good time to talk? Or if not now, when would be? I need to talk to you about Carly (our daughter). It’s probably going to take about 20 minutes because I want to tell you what I think, and I want to know how you feel. Oh, and it’s probably going to be upsetting to you.”

Notice what Jill did:

  1. She asked if it would be a good time to talk.
  2. She estimated the amount of time it would take.
  3. She alerted me to the possibility of me feeling upset.

Again, I really appreciate knowing what I’m being asked for.  It puts me in position to evaluate if I have the ability at that time to be my best because her request is clear (i.e., duration and topic). When I know specifically what Jill wants I’m better able to meet her needs.

Energy is an often overlooked factor in relationships.  I’m not sure why this is, especially because relationships and the conversations that build them are sometimes very emotionally and mentally demanding.  Elite athletes and other top performers (musicians, speakers, executives, etc.) pay careful attention to energy management and conversation.  They know that they need peak levels in all domains to be their best.  The same is true for relationships.

When we talk about talking before we have conversations it puts us in a good position to take stock of our mental and emotional reserves to determine if we have enough fuel in the tank to be our best in the way we listen and respond. “Can I serve Jill well right now? Will I be able to turn off the conversation in my head and to table distractions so that I can really hear her thoughts and feelings?  Am I sharp enough and emotionally rested well enough to handle the upset and to also moderate what I say?” On a very practical note, low blood sugar, dehydration and physical fatigue (lack of sleep) are all very important considerations.

Self-awareness about the conditions we need to have great conversations is essential. Personal comfort needs such as hunger, thirst or needing to go to the bathroom should be satisfied before we try to give our best mental, emotional and spiritual energies to those we love.  Such needs are easily explained.  “I would like to grab a bit to eat and get something to drink before we begin our conversation so that I will be undistracted.  You are important to me, and I really want us to be able to have a great conversation.” When Jill explains such needs to me in the context of her wanting to be her best during our conversation I am happy to wait for her to be ready.

When we coach marriages we are careful to arrive for the appointment rested, fed, and undistracted.  Sometimes we talk about the conditions we prefer to give our best as Marriage Coaches. This is a model for clients who often talk about how many of their relational problems could be eliminated by simply reducing the stress and busyness of their lives. YES!

Consider these suggestions when you talk about talking:

When you are the one requesting a conversation:

  1. Offer information about the topic(s) you want to discuss.
  2. Estimate the duration, and ask for that amount of time.
  3. Inform the person(s) if the conversation is time-sensitive (ie., deadline).
  4. Be prepared to accommodate the other person’s schedule if they ask to wait.

When you are being asked for a conversation:

  1. Ask yourself if you have the time and mental and emotional capacity at that time.
  2. Anticipate needs that may come up during the conversation (e.g., restroom, thirst).
  3. Accommodate the request right way, if possible.
  4. Ask for time to reflect/pray on the topic(s), especially if potentially inflammatory.

Finally, even if we talk about talking to create ideal conditions for a great conversation we might still run into difficulty. When that happens consider taking a time-out to pray, collect your thoughts, to cool off emotionally and even to journal.  The point is to do whatever it takes to give you and your spouse (or your child, friend, etc.) the best opportunity to have a great conversation.  Remember, the quality of our relationships is directly related to the quality of our conversations.

Copyright 2009 Jeffrey J. Williams | Grace & Truth Relationship Education | Germantown | MD | 20876 301.515.1218,

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