Ask this question and hopefully you can gain clarity and a better way to communicate.
What do you need from me in this conversation?
Lets talk about this. What the crap does this even mean? Of course, they want to tell you whatever it is and have you fix it right? Not likely. Its been my experience that many times we try to “fix” the problem and only make matters worse.
Case in point,
Melissa/Lindsey ” Can I talk to you about some stuff that’s bugging me?”
Me “Sure whats up?”
“Well, this thing happened and it made me feel ______” At this point it does not matter WHAT the thing is OR the emotional response. Typically this is in reference to a negative emotional response. What matters is what you do from this point.
My typical response to this is, “Well, I didn’t mean it that way.” “I was just trying to________” Or ” Wow really? I had no idea that was gonna make you feel like that.” “I’m sorry” . Insert explanation and reasoning to validate my meaning and not the way the partner feels. Yea, that is not the way to do it. Yet that seems to be the standard narrative that we go to. Why? Who knows really. I’m sure there is a study somewhere but I’m not here to figure out why. My goal is to share with you a positive mode of communication.
This week Lindsey came to me and asked if we could talk. She had made a realization after chatting with a friend about some things and wanted to share them with me. Before the conversation actually started I tried something different.
“Before we get started I would like to ask what you need from me in this conversation? Do you need support, reasoning, want me to just listen? ” I said to her… I think she was a bit taken aback by my question as this is out of character for me.
She looked at me thoughtfully for a moment and said, “I think I’d like you to listen first and when I am done if I need anything more I’ll ask. ”
“That is fair” I replied. and sat waiting to listen. This is contrary to my standard behavior. and my insides were screaming at me to blurt out apologies and explanations, even though none of what she was saying was my fault nor did I have control over any of it. She explained some issues she has with an upcoming trip I am taking and some things that have been happening on a daily basis that reinforce those fears. Explaining all the while how they make her feel and what her thoughts are on where the fear is based. It was really good to see her open up to me about these things and share with me the scary parts of our relationship that she lives with on a daily basis. I know she was scared. It takes a lot of guts to come out and say some of the scary stuff one faces daily.
I listened for all of it. Never once interrupting. I wont lie I had to really fight to not interject at times and try to explain a behavior or phrasing. But I never did… I listened to the end.
After she was done I sat looking at her and reached out for a hug. we embraced and I held her for a moment and told her,
“Thank you for sharing that with me. It sucks that you have all this going on inside.” (Acknowledgement of HER feelings. Ive been trying really hard to do this lately.)
We talked about strategy for trips. DIscussed future conversations and how this was a positive experience. We talked in more detail about how things daily can be less of a stressor around trips I take to see other connections and go to conferences where I may make new connections.
We say that the biggest thing that makes poly work, or any relationship really, is the ability to clearly communicate expectations, feelings, and plans. This is a great way to learn how to listen better.
Asking upfront what the speaker needs to get in the conversation allows the expectation to be set. ” This is what I need from you. Nothing more. ” It also sets a boundary. A safe space for the conversation. If you cross that line then yes you are the butt head and they have every right to shut off the conversation and walk away. Because you obviously don’t care what they have to say. I am NOT saying sit there and be a punching bag for a person.
You too have a right to end the conversation if you feel at all like they have crossed a line, are making things too personal, or perhaps its a bit much for you to process at once and you need a break. If this is the case, I suggest that you politely, raise your hand. YES Just like in grade school. This is the universal sign for I need to ask a question. They can acknowledge you. and then you can say ” I need a break” “I’m not understanding you” ” Can we slow this down a bit I’m getting lost” ” I feel like this is attacking me and I would like to stop this conversation.”
All of this can be set up ahead of time in the “What do you need from me in this conversation” but that question can be the difference between a fight and a loving meaningful conversation that brings you closer to the person you are talking to.I plan on using it more often and making it a part of my standard of communication. Anytime someone close to me says, ” Can I ask you/talk to you about something?” I hope you have the same results I did.