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How To Talk About Tough Topics [3-part series]

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Hi, I’m Alex!

If you need a little help to start playing by your own rules, there’s a few ways we can work together more closely.

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Take a deep breath and get your journal ready:  we’re going to talk about tough topics.

Which tough topics? 

Well, that depends on who you are and what’s happening in your life right now, but if you’re like me, you’ve got a few conversations rolling around in your brain that you’re putting off:

A few tough talks I’ve had in the last year covered:

  • Money
  • Sex
  • Parenting
  • Toxic friendship dynamics
  • Politics

We put off tough conversations because:

  1. We don’t know what to say. (ever gone blank in the heat of it?)
  2. We worry the person or people we need to talk with are going to get upset with us, or we’ll hurt them. (it’ll turn into a fight)
  3. We grew up in dysfunctional families and tough topics led to someone getting hurt (maybe us) and we’ve become “smoother overs” (aka codependents) and don’t have the skills to face tough topics head-on.

There are many more reasons I’ve avoided tough conversations, and I know you probably have more (hit reply and email me what blocks you)…

…AND I know that life can move forward and problems can get handled when we finally talk through our tough topics. Better yet, relationships can get much better.

Which makes everyone’s life better.

This kicks off a three-part series to help you talk about tough topics.

Part 1 (below): Use the 4-step All-In Method to get clear on your own.

Part 2 will help you have a conversation with someone else.

Part 3 will help you take new aligned actions together.

Ready? OK!

PART ONE: KNOW THYSELF. 

The 4-Step All-In Method Just for YOU.

To help you get clear in your own mind about Topic X, spend 15 minutes writing out your thoughts and feelings using the 4-step All-In Method below. You can also speak them into your phone’s voice recorder.

EXAMPLE TOPIC X: Going to visit “challenging” family members

STEP 1: What are your Intentions for doing Topic X (your “whys”) 

Prompts: 

Why do you want to X? (go visit these people)

How can this X (visit) support your personal goals? 

What values of yours made you decide to plan this X (visit) in the first place?

This section is usually short and to the point. It’s not about what you hope will happen, that comes later.

Answers can be short and sweet:

  • To get out of the house, a change of scenery 
  • I feel obligated to visit them
  • To have a fun road trip

If this all feels unclear, don’t worry – this step is helping you get there.

We often do things out of fear, habit, or obligation. 

If that’s the case, this is your chance to surface, and perhaps question, these motivations.

Write it all down.

There are no wrong answers. 

You’re getting clear.

STEP 2: What are your Concerns (fears, worries, anxiety, etc.)

Prompts: 

What worries do you have about this X (visit)?

What do you think will get in your way of a successful X (visit)?

Where will you run into trouble?

What problems have you encountered before that you worry about?

If what you’re doing is important, then you’re going to have some concerns. 

This is your chance to do the worst-case scenario planning that our human brains are so good at, and get all those fears on the page.

Often our worries aren’t clear but exist as just a vague sense of dread. Make an effort to name these fears and be as specific as possible.

Examples of Concerns: 

  • I might get angry with my mother-in-law.
  • We might disagree about politics and everyone will get upset with me.
  • I might have to endure something painful like ___.
  • I might not know what to do if ___ happens.

Write it all down.

There are no wrong answers. 

You’re getting clear.

STEP 3: What are your Boundaries (your personal rules for self-care)

Prompts: 

What do you need to be at your personal best?

What will keep me from burning out?

What can I do if I feel upset?

What rules will help me and my family be our best?

Boundaries stem from the things we need to have in place for our self-care and personal commitments. They are best when they’re clear, and right now they’re just for you. 

We don’t often have conversations about our personal boundaries, and it’s a kindness to yourself and others when you know what yours are. 

Even if you don’t know how to make it happen yet, honor your needs: 

Examples of Boundaries:

  • I want to stay at a hotel, not at my mother-in-law’s home.
  • I won’t drink alcohol at family events.
  • If someone else has been drinking and they pick a fight, I will exit the conversation. 
  • I will go for a nature walk by myself or just with my child daily on this trip.

Setting boundaries is one of the hardest parts for some of us.

Think of these as “starter boundaries” and give it a shot.

Write it all down.

There are no wrong answers. 

You’re getting clear.

STEP 4: What are your Dreams (end on a high note!)

Prompts: 

If this goes incredibly well, what will be true?

How will I feel?

What will have shifted?

What will I have experienced?

Let’s end on a high note! You’ve made it through the tough parts of the conversation, and now it’s time to imagine the best possible outcomes.

Let yourself be ambitious and use your imagination!

Examples of Dreams:

  • We make new, happy memories together as a family
  • We come home feeling relaxed and replenished
  • I expressed my opinions and was heard and respected
  • I took good care of myself and my new boundaries

Hopefully, you feel more clear and even confident about your thoughts and feelings on your tough topic.

Part 2 in this series will help you talk about the tough topic with the other important people in your life.

This 4-part All-In Method is the main tool from our new book, Radical Alignment, which comes out August 11th, 2020.

Get a free chapter on how we use this 4-step process in our home, marriage, and parenting here: 

Want to share this with someone who has a tough topic? Copy-paste this link and send it to them: https://alexandrajamieson.com/how-to-talk-about-tough-topics-3-part-series/

Alex Jamieson and Bob Gower, co-authors of Radical Alignment.
Photo Credit: Sam Joseph

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