There’s someone in your life you care about…
And you can’t just talk to them anymore.
You don’t agree on certain things.
And you could live with that—everyone disagrees on some things, right?—but you don’t see HOW they can believe what they believe.
Don’t they realize the harm their beliefs are causing? Don’t they realize the stakes involved? Don’t they realize they’re wrong?
Ariana Friedlander is no stranger to difficult conversations.
She’s a certified Conversational Intelligence coach and a trained Add Heart Facilitator.
Even with her years of experience, she still finds herself triggered like anyone else when conversations take a wrong turn. The main difference is…
She knows how to bring awareness to it.
In this week’s YBTV interview, Ariana shares 4 tips that can help us lean into those difficult conversations. She shows us how to prepare, how to set good boundaries, how to deal with triggers, and how to stay emotionally connected even when it’s hard.
What You’ll Learn
This isn’t just about having a conversation.
It’s about having a conversation that stirs up BIG emotions.
On the surface, all you’re doing is discussing a difference in opinion, but what it feels like is a personal attack.
You’re disappointed in each other.
It feels like you’re losing this person you care about.
So what’s the answer?
Avoid the topic entirely?
Write off your friend?
Or find out how to have the conversation in a different way?
It’s Happening to All of Us
Ariana recently found herself disagreeing with a close friend.
Her friend finally said, “Ariana, I don’t like conflict. I don’t think that we should talk about this anymore.”
Ariana took a deep breath and replied, “I respect where you’re coming from, and I disagree. If you and I can’t navigate these difficult conversations together, then how can we as communities and as a nation and as a world navigate them?”
It’s true – we live in an increasingly polarized world.
It used to be easier to smile on old Aunt Edna with her old-fashioned, off-color views, but today our tolerance levels are strained. It costs too much to stay silent. We feel morally obligated to challenge offensive viewpoints. So we speak up…
And everything explodes into chaos.
Few of us were taught how to have difficult conversations.
We were told to avoid controversial topics like politics and religion. We were told to let things go if we wanted people to like us.
But that meant that we could be honest with very few people, just the people who agreed with us.
Even greater polarization.
“When we can lean into conflict with someone that we love and care about, we both can grow exponentially,” Ariana says.
If we want our families and communities to stay connected, we have to find a way to have that dialogue, even though it’s hard.
Here are 4 tips to start talking.
Tip #1. Understand Each Other (Don’t Try to Convince)
When someone voices an opinion you disagree with, what’s your first instinct?
It’s to convince them they’re wrong, right?
“We really like to be right,” Ariana says. “We really like to get others to agree with us.”
Being right releases dopamine in the brain, which gives us an intense feeling of reward.
We become addicted to the pleasure of being right…
Even though it’s sabotaging our relationships.
Sometimes Ariana would find herself approaching a conversation with her friend thinking, “She just needs to understand. I just need to get her to see.”
Except, of course, it never worked. Trying to convince each other just left them both feeling frustrated.
Instead, Ariana tried a different approach.
She realized that, “If I want her to see and hear me, I need to see and hear her.”
She began listening with an open mind, willing to let her friend influence her.
She tried to understand where her friend was coming from, even though she didn’t always agree.
That didn’t mean she stifled her own opinions. If her friend said something hurtful, she’d say something.
Not in the spirit of condemnation or judgment, but in order to understand.
As she listened to her friend, she began to realize why her friend held the beliefs she had. She understood the backstory. They could talk about why they believed what they believed, rather than arguing or trying to get a point across.
Tip #2. Set Boundaries
Going into a difficult conversation with no container is a recipe for disaster.
You have to both be on the same page about where the conversation can and cannot go.
Something that helped Ariana and her friend was acknowledging that these topics were emotional for both of them, and that they each were sensitive about different things.
They set an intention to be open when they got upset and to communicate instead of attacking each other.
They also made a commitment to set aside time for these conversations.
You can’t have a productive conversation about a hot-button topic in a few minutes. It takes time to go beneath the surface and explore the complexity of the topic.
Tip #3. Check The Story You’re Telling Yourself
It feels like a personal betrayal when someone you love and care about says something that’s deeply offensive to you.
You think, “They just don’t care. If they cared, they wouldn’t do this.”
That’s the story you’re telling yourself, but it isn’t always true.
“It’s really important to bring our awareness to the way that we are feeling and to the stories that we are telling ourselves,” Ariana says.
Whenever we experience a trigger, there’s a story that we make up … and it comes with a bunch of assumptions.”
Even though what the other person is saying are just words, we feel threatened. We respond by shielding ourselves and passing judgment.
“There’s a neurochemical reaction happening that explains it—it’s part of our shared humanity—but we need to be aware of it and not controlled by it,” Ariana says.
Ariana is a big fan of journaling as a way of processing conversations, examining those triggers, and finding new ways to rewriting the narrative.
Tip #4. Set an Intention
Being open to influence, mindful of your triggers, and clear about boundaries will set the frame for a healthy conversation.
But don’t forget the last piece:
Being mindful of how you want the other person to feel.
The way you show up to a conversation affects how the other person will receive it.
When you don’t agree with someone—and your feelings are strong—it can be easy to let disrespect slip through.
You put them on the defensive before you’ve even said a word.
So set an intention for the conversation before you go into it, so that it feels like a safe space for both of you.
(Need more help preparing for a difficult conversation? These 4 steps can guide you.)
Where to Draw the Line
Not all conversations are worth having.
Ariana draws a line “any time that bullying comes into the picture—aggressive, hurtful, and attacking behavior and words.”
She won’t allow people into her life if that’s where they’re going to go.
She won’t allow people to use her vulnerability as a way to attack her, either.
“You can do your best to create the space and to set the conditions,” she says, “and if they’re not willing to, then you have to draw that boundary and not put yourself in harm’s way. It’s not worth it.”
Shifting the Dynamic at Work
Ariana brings these skills into the workplace, where she helps conversations shift in more productive ways.
“We are creatures of habit,” she says, “and so we typically have conversations that are at the surface level. We don’t always get down to the root issue or the deeper meaning … and so that’s where conflict can breed.”
She helps organizations talk and think differently, which allows “the wisdom of the room to surface, and for us to bring that collective wisdom together to solve complicated problems.”
Need a Shift in Your Own Life?
If you could use a shift in your own life, Ariana is offering a free gift!
It’s a 28-day self-paced program to establish your journaling habit and unlock your brilliance ($99 value).
“Navigating conflict and disagreements, especially with those we love, is hard,” Ariana says. “In doing so, you are taking a risk.”
But, she says, “when we can lean in, and we can take those risks intentionally, amazing connection and possibilities can happen.”
Ariana Friedlander, MPA, is an organizational anthropologist, a leadership development expert, and an author. She is the founder and principal of Rosabella Consulting and has over 18 years of experience in fostering positive change within organizations and companies. She specializes in modeling shared leadership and navigating co-creating conversations that lead to new innovations. Find out how you can work with Ariana.