How to say what you really want to your family
Now I am often asked this question because it feels like when we have discussions with our family that are important or that we find might be difficult or challenging for us, it becomes emotional, and people find it more difficult to have the normal everyday conversations.
This blog is broken down into four parts:
Emotions - why conversations with our families can cause emotional pushback from both you and the person that you are speaking to.
Consequences - what they are and why you should think about them before you have the conversation.
Beliefs - both yours and the person who you are going to talk to and how they intertwine.
How to introduce this conversation because often it is not easy, and it can be in the timing.
Firstly, for those of you that have listened to my podcast before you know that I will talk about the emotional brain, and the logical brain. Now often when we are talking to family members, husbands, wives, partners, parents, kids, whatever it might be, it comes from a place of emotion. When we have emotional conversations our emotional side of the brain takes over and we can be different than we are when we are logical.
The people that we love and care about the most, they see us at our worst and the people that are not as important to us, we always are on our best behaviour for. It is funny, maybe it is a trust thing. When we have deep intimate relationships with people, then we don't feel that we're going to be judged by them if we are emotional.
The emotional conversation aspect of it makes it harder in the first place and often what we will do is build up the conversation in our head. Sometimes family conversations are impulsive. By that I mean that your kids come in, that they start slamming doors, so your immediate reaction is to say something along the lines of,' Hey stop slamming the doors! Why are you slamming them? What is the problem with you? What's the matter?!' Immediately as a parent we go into that emotional conversation, the child will then often push back and give us an emotional response. ' You don't understand me, you've got no idea what my day was like.'
Or we might be having conversations with our partners, it might be about parenting, or even how you are going to spend Christmas. I know it is the middle of October and it's a little early, but Christmas can cause emotional responses.
Finally, it may be a conversation with your parents. I'm 53, my parents are getting older, and I have started to find myself being more of a parent to them or making decisions that my parents would have made for me. I was not expecting that as I got older, so that has been quite interesting.
When we are emotional, we always look at the world from our perspective, because it's our emotions that are driving our behaviour, so we don't see, or we don't stop, or we don't press the pause button to think about the other person. So, if you are going to have a conversation with your family, which is important, then think about the emotional side of it, think about your own emotional triggers and the emotional triggers of the other person before you have the conversation.
When we talk about difficult conversations within a family unit there is often going to be a consequence to that. I am going to use my dad as an example. My dad is 82. He is getting older; he's sadly been in hospital quite a lot over the last year. He is reconditioning himself to being an amputee, he has lost his leg and is wheelchair bound. One of the things that he wanted to do in one of our conversations recently was to continue to drive.
Now you can imagine, my thoughts. From my perspective I wanted to say to him, no that is a lie I wanted to shout to him. 'No, you cannot drive. You can't drive it is not safe. Dad, it's not safe for you and it's not safe for anybody else on the road,' but that's my emotional brain kicking in, my protective brain, my brain that wants to stop anybody being hurt, and to protect my dad. He would become frustrated about that, I've seen him become frustrated around lots of aspects of controlling his life, because to him it's more than the driving. It is about independence. So, before this conversation, and I am just using this as an example, it could be anything could be a conversation with your kids or a conversation with your partner. This is recent, so I am sharing the learning that I reflected upon in this conversation. The likely consequences if I go into that conversation and say, 'Hey dad, I think you're dangerous driving, you're not driving anymore,' is I'm going to get a huge pushback, a huge pushback like, 'Who are you to tell me what to do. I'll make my own decisions in life. Thank you very much. If I don't think I'm safe, then I won't drive,'. That will be the likely consequences, I'm going to get a pushback reaction and pushed away.
Thirdly we need to look at their belief system. So, I will look at my belief system first which is the worry and the fear if something happened to my dad or anybody else, but then we look at their belief system. My dad has been driving for years. He has always been a safe driver. He has always been proud of driving. He used to pick us up all the time, he'd come out and pick my sister up, he dropped us off everywhere. Now with him and mum being on their own, he was the person that drove them around. There is a whole belief system around there about control, about his role in the family unit, about protecting my mum, about being there for her and about the independence. So, when I have my belief system and I introduce a conversation that is going to be in conflict from my dad's belief system I am going to get pushback, which is likely to create an emotional response in me. I must be careful about how I introduce that conversation, when and where to do it and to think about it before just going straight in.
When I hear my dad say, 'I'm going to apply for my driving licence,' every part of my being is screaming no. Honestly, I am not saying I'm right and I'm not saying I'm wrong. I am just telling you how it is so that we can learn from this conversation. What I wanted to scream at him was 'No please don't get in your car, please don't send off your driving licence, I love you dearly but it's just not a good idea,' but if I had said that, we know that it would be emotional, we know there's going to be a consequence, and we know we're going to be pushing against my dad's belief system.
How to introduce this conversation
So, think about how you are going to introduce the conversation. We can't just have it, because it just becomes an emotional car crash of everybody being emotional. So, think about how you are going to introduce the conversation, play it through in your mind, think about where it is going to happen. Also, if you sit down with somebody and say hey you know what I want to I want to talk to you about something really important then that gets people's backs up, ready for perhaps a conversation they don't want to have. Whereas if it is in a far more relaxed area, this differs. We actually had the conversation as I was pushing him in his wheelchair down the street to go for coffee, so it was a very relaxed, non-confrontational situation. They have done a lot of research on this, especially for parents and their kids around the best time to have a conversation is when you are sat next to somebody in a car because you don't have that face to face. It does not seem so serious, you are just chatting and looking around and it's far more relaxed. So, think about how to introduce that conversation.
In summary, emotional conversations can be the thing that drive family units, that they don't want to talk about something, and it is often the conversations we don't want to have that are the ones that we should be having. However, they can be emotional. There is probably going to be a consequence, so think that through. Think what the likely consequences are because when you know all of this you can prepare yourself for it. What's their belief system? What's my belief system and how am I going to introduce that conversation? When we know all of that then we can sit down calmly in the cold light of day, in a logical frame of mind and put together that conversation. So, for me that conversation went a little like this:
'Hey Dad, can we just talk about driving, I know it's really important to you because it's all about your independence. I know you'd like to look after mum and take her to the shops, and you're probably thinking that you're going to be able to continue to drive, what's your feelings around that for the future?' Then we just opened up the conversation, it was very relaxed and because there was no pressure on either part, we had a logical conversation about what was going to happen next.
I hope you find that useful and that you will be able to take those tips into any conversation that you are going to have with your family.