Conversations can be like trains travelling along tracks. They seem to be proceeding along fine and then something happens- a little shimmy, a little shake, and then no one can say exactly how or why or when but suddenly the train jumps the tracks and careens over the cliff, crashing on the rocks below with dramatic flames and twisted metal.
Especially among family, which many of us will be during the holidays, but also at work, where recent political events may have significant impacts on those we see every day for most of the day. It’s enough to cause one to second-guess making an innocent comment or asking a harmless question. Who knows how this initially superficial chat will end?
How do we avoid the “Small Talk Tango” but also keep conversations meaningful and sincere?
How do we make sure we aren’t taking stress out on those closest to us?
How do we navigate the trip wires of tension in conversations?
Below are 10 phrases that can come in handy when you find yourself in situations that could use some peace-making*:
1) “Thank you for your opinion. I’ll think about that.”
When we receive unhelpful or unsolicited advice, we can simply smile and respond with this neutral statement. The goal is to be polite and exit the conversation; no need to be rude or defensive.
2) “Is this a good time for you?”
Would that every conversation could start this way. It demonstrates consideration and preparedness, two elements all good conversations should have. If people say “no,” then follow up with: “What would be a better time?’
3) “Would you like my thoughts?”
Again, starting like this is so simple and yet so powerful. If the person you are hoping to speak to answers yes, it means they are ready to listen. If they say no, then zip your lip.
4) “Do we have all the facts?”
Some people tend to argue about anything and everything they can, including things that could be easily resolved. Making sure we know how much that program actually cost, who was at the meeting, etc. can help people move on to what’s important and get around a potential land mine.
5) “I need your help. Can you please……?”
This is a great way to approach someone who is not pulling their weight (in your opinion). Instead of accusing or hoping they will read your mind, ask directly for what you want and be specific.
6) “Do we have all of the information?”
Know when to table a discussion. Often, pausing in order to make sure that we have all the information – when does the contract run out, do we have the authority to make this decision, how will this impact another priority- helps avoid a premature argument.
7) “Can you tell me more about that?”
Sometimes asking the right question is all it takes to dodge the drama. We all make assumptions about people’s intentions; asking this question in a genuinely interested (versus passive-aggressive) way, this question encourages your conversation partner to explain themselves before you jump to conclusions.
8) “I don’t like that, can we try this instead?”
Direct communication FTW. Rather than complain (internally) or nag (externally), this phrase is solution-focused. It’s empowering for you and for your conversation partner, as it invites both of you to own and use the power you have to make decisions.
9) “I’m sorry”
We tend to overestimate apologies. We resist them, fearing that apologizing will invite the other person to run rampant over our independence and free will. But ask yourself how many times you have left a situation saying: “If only they had said they were sorry,” and remember that you don’t want to be that kind of person.
10) “I’ll let you know”
We all need a standard phrase to respond with when we feel put on the spot. Keep this line with you at all times, especially in a group situation. Best to let the person know a time when they can expect a response—but only if you will indeed reply by that time.
Good luck in your conversations. Hopefully these phrases – and even more, the intentions behind them- will make a difference for you and your relationships. As the good book says, “As far as it depends on you, be at peace with all people.” May it be so.
* Modified from article by Laurie Puhn in Real Simple November 2008