Enjoying meaningful conversation with those we love and care about is one of the great pleasures of being human, and two great – and perfectly dove-tailing – articles giving ten top tips apiece have crossed my radar recently.

Let’s start with how NOT to do things with Gina Barreca Ph.D., whose Psychology Today blog called Snow White Doesn’t Live Here Anymore has to rank as one of the best titles EVER.

In her recent post, The 10 Worst Things People Say at the Start of Conversations, she relates the kinds of conversation starters that will almost certainly make the receiver turn pale.

I won’t repeat all 10 (go click on the link above to read them), but the 3 that jumped out at me (from a VERY strong field) were;

  • “Look, there’s something you should know.”
  • “I’ve been thinking about something you said about me a long time ago, and while you might not remember it, it’s bothered me since then.”
  • “Hey, I’m just being honest.”

Frankly, just reading those three in that order has made me break out in a cold sweat.

Dr Barreca points out that the ten she lists (and her other examples) are often used by narcissists or passive-aggressively; I’d probably take them in the context of the speaker’s general communication and patterns of behaviour, but I can absolutely see how they can be – either intentionally or unintentionally – weaponised or used to hurt and control.

She continues,

How can you stop these conversational sabotages, these comments that can verge on micro- aggressions while disguised as socialization opportunities, before they explode into actual bad emotional eruptions? You might consider taking control back from the person who appears to want to seize it from you, even if they are not aware it, or appear to be not aware of it.

You can take the reins in the dialogue. Saying something as simple as “You’re making me nervous. Can we get to the main point right away?” is both honest and direct. It shortcuts the possible poorly or dangerously sparking emotional circuitry and cuts down on drama.

Gina Barreca Ph.D. The 10 Worst Things People Say at the Start of Conversations

While I might tweak it slightly (to “I’m feeling nervous. Can we get to the main point right away?”), it’s a wise phrase to defuse, indeed.

So, we know what NOT to do. How about some tips on what TO do?

In her new book Listen: How to Find the Words for Tender Conversations, psychotherapist and doctor Kathryn Mannix shows her experience as both, offering 10 tips in this wonderful Guardian article, How to say the unsayable: 10 ways to approach a sensitive, daunting conversation.

Again, I won’t list all ten pointers (go do the link clicky thing), but here are my 3 favourite pieces of advice which she shares;

  • Pace yourself
  • Sit with distress without trying to ‘make it better’
  • Don’t interrupt the silence

“Pace yourself” jumped out at me as, I’ll be honest, the chronic health condition I experience has had me on the ropes for the last few weeks. Recognising that tender conversations can be tiring, and that some of us have limited energy, is a great permission slip to be compassionate to ourselves and the other party.

“Sit with distress without trying to ‘make it better'” is a huge one for many of us – myself included. I know how easy it is to want to make something ‘better’ for someone not out of compassion for their suffering, but to put myself out of the suffering of seeing them suffer.

And I might have “Don’t interrupt the silence” tattooed somewhere (I joke, I need it somewhere where I can see it far more easily than that).

One of my gifts is being able to perceive patterns and links between what someone says, or to connect it to a useful resource. Unfortunately, when my enthusiasm overtakes my empathy, I can be something of an over-excited puppy, dying to share the Very Exciting Thing That Is Currently Jumping Up And Down In My Head Lest I Forget About It When A New Very Exciting Thing Appears Too [cough].

So, we know how not to start a conversation, and better ways to engage when we do.

Is there a connection you’d love to spark this September?

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Photo by Anastasia Shuraeva from Pexels

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