How to Make Discussing an Issue, Not an Issue
Strong relationships have one thing in common: Discussing issues is never really an issue.
How can you make this a reality?
Think about the best relationships you have ever had. Chances are you did not have a hard time diving deep into sensitive subjects. Right?
One way to measure the health of your relationships at home or at work is to ask two simple questions:
- Do I feel comfortable to discuss issues that are important to me (and us)?
- When I discuss these issues, is it a dramatic event?
If we are not careful, we eventually get to a point where we surrender to the status quo in our relationships. We get comfortable, sometimes even when we are uncomfortable. Many people even find themselves in toxic or abusive situations, and yet they capitulate and accept the way things are.
I don’t think we should accept that for ourselves. The reason we yield to these broken relationships, is that we see our situations as a reality that we have to live with. We may not want to rock the boat. We don’t want to go through even more emotional turmoil than we already have. In many scenarios, we just want peace at all costs.
Peace is good, but not at the expense of being in an unhealthy relationship. So I want to invite you today, to think with me about one important relationship that concerns you, maybe even drains you. Let’s start by assessing it honestly.
What is your answer to the two questions above, regarding that relationship? Rate it from 1 to 5, where 1 is that you do not feel comfortable at all discussing issues or that you find yourself in a dramatic event when discussing issues; 3 being average; and 5 indicating that you feel very comfortable, that discussing issues is as easy as drinking water.
If you found that this key relationship is lacking, I have something to tell you: Friend, you deserve to be in a healthy relationship. Don’t settle for less. At the same time, don’t beat yourself about it too much. It is what it is. Every meaningful relationship requires careful and consistent work.
While there is no magic formula that works all the time, I want to share with you some ideas to consider in regard to the health of your relationships, particularly as it relates to discussing sensitive issues.
Step One: Make “discussing issues is not an issue” your goal.
In all relationships, but especially in the most important ones of your life, make this your aim. Be aware of it. As you design your life, make this a value you practice. Life becomes much easier when our relationships are healthy enough that we can talk about anything that needs to be said. When you make this your goal and your expectation, if a relationship falls below this threshold, your mental caution alarms will go off.
Step Two: Make assessing your relationships regular.
This might be the most important step. When we are aware of a problem, we are more likely to address it. Here, we have to fight our tendency to ignore the painful reality of where we are in the relationship. Let’s not ignore it. Rather, let’s face it head on. Don’t allow yourself to believe it is a hopeless situation. You may have tried everything you know to do, and nothing has panned out. If you begin to believe it is hopeless, you will surrender to the fact that the most important issues cannot be discussed without World War III breaking out.
There is always hope, regardless of how bad your relationship has gotten. So begin by regularly assessing where things are.
Step Three: Make patience and diligence your friend.
I don’t know of a more effective way to turn the relationship habits of two people than with both patience and diligence. We naturally fall into routines, habits of communication and relating to one another that may not be healthy. You can think of this as the culture of the relationship. The norms. The unspoken rules. And for those ingrained practices to change you need not only patience but also a proactive, focused, and consistently diligent approach.
To change any culture—in a country, in an organization, or in a relationship—patience is key. Culture cannot change overnight. We must be careful that we do not take a passive approach in the name of being patient. What we must instead aim for is to be laser focused and strategic.
It is possible that sometimes you have to push hard, confront, or set boundaries. Depending on the situation, you may use other types of approaches. Regardless of what methods you use, be patient. Turning cultures around takes months at best, but normally it takes years.
Again, be careful not to let patience turn into inaction, and an excuse to overlook progress. Set your expectations high. Be aggressive and diligent. But unless you stay patient, you may lose heart and give up and remain in the status quo.
Step Four: Make spending time together a routine practice.
This step is key if it is at all possible to execute. Meet daily, meet weekly. Whenever and how ever often is needed to get both parties used to being together. Make spending time with the person who is important to you a must. Give it priority. Give them priority.
I really think a tipping point to all dying relationships is this: People do not make themselves emotionally available to one another. It’s a vicious cycle. Small walls get built, that lead to each person not really wanting to spend time with the other. What results are more, higher, and thicker walls erected between the two of them. The relationship deteriorates as they spend less time together. And eventually zero quality time is being invested into the relationship.
That cycle can be broken when two people decide to just be together, even if it’s in complete silence at first. Just make it a discipline. What if the other person does not want to? You figure out a way. That’s your challenge to get them to, not by clubbing them over the head with it, but by wisely figuring out the keys to their heart.
Step Five: Make talking normal.
Some people don’t like to talk. They don’t feel comfortable discussing the issues. This is okay, right? Well, no. This is simply not an option.
If someone does not want to discuss anything, then in essence they are choosing not to be in the relationship. A relationship by definition is two people relating, connecting, and dancing together. It’s a together journey! On the other hand, we have to be aware that some people naturally “do” and act, while others think and converse. Some like to discuss and debate everything to the nth degree. So be aware of where you fit in. Find the common ground. Create ways to start talking. If you like to talk for an hour, and the other person does not like to talk at all, maybe you can settle on ten minutes.
After you find that common ground, make it normal. Make it normal not only to discuss the trivial, but the deep, the sensitive, and difficult. This is a journey of discovery. It takes time to know how to bring certain issues up. But keep trying, until no issue is an “issue.”
My Challenge to You
Here is the ugly reality. Sometimes we find ourselves committing to relationships with people whose maturity, values, and boundaries are outside our current skill set to manage. When we are in these situations, issues simply cannot be discussed in a healthy way. It is often a drama or a spectacle. Boy, have I been there.
The bottom line is don’t give up when you find yourself in that place. Do not allow yourself to dwell where the volatile and violent winds of emotions, and the murky waters of assumption and accusation, guide the ship of your relationships. Keep working at it, keep learning, and keep growing until you get to a healthier place.
In the most important relationships in our lives as leaders, at work or at home, we must get to a point where we can talk and untangle any issue without it always being an issue.
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