Two Ways to Have a "Hard" Conversation

IMG_6506 2One of my babies had chronic ear infections.  No big deal, right?  Most kids get ear infections.  So we got tubes put in.  But the infection came back.  So we got different tubes put in.  But the infection came back.

During each episode, my baby was put on all the usual antibiotics for treatment.  I didn’t know any better.  I listened to the doctors and just kept dosing the pink stuff and then the white stuff.

When the infection came back again, we were sent to a specialist.  That was about as terrifying as it sounds.  I was a new, young mom, my former husband was away on business, and my mother was dying from cancer.

Good times!

The first specialist I was referred to was a Beaumont doctor, so I felt safe because of those dumb commercials that prey on pathos: Do YOU have a Beaumont doctor?  
Well, I did.  But he sucked.

While I’ve come to know and love many Beaumont doctors over the years, he was not one I’d recommend.

He schooled me in the trend of overprescribing antibiotics, which actually weakens our immune systems, especially in babies and toddlers; thus making them even more susceptible to infections.  He used words like “colonized”.  He even blamed me, because I’m a teacher, for being a “carrier” of so many germs.  It was horrible.  Talk about mom guilt.

And my poor little baby with tubes in those teeny, tiny, little ears suffered round after round of varied oral antibiotics, probiotics, ear drops, and my intense aura of anxiety around the whole fiasco.

When I felt near a nervous-breakdown, our beloved pediatrician Dr. Ami Mavani called with the newest results.  But before she could even get a word out, I just started bawling.  I laid it all out there…to the pediatrician!   Calmingly, she totally assuaged my fears with her expertise and demeanor. This was not Ebola, not Malaria, not the Dengue Fever.  It was just an ear infection that needed a different antibiotic.  She almost laughed at my anxiety over the whole thing.

What a relief!

The next step was to see another specialist because my baby’s immune system was compromised from all of the antibiotics; except this time, Dr. Mavani referred me to one at Children’s Hospital.  What a difference! The doctor there did not use scary words, but rather said our situation was “important” to discuss.

Well, I could handle “important”.
Words matter.  Duh.  That’s why I’m an English teacher.

What’s this story have to do with having a “hard” conversation with your partner?  I’ll tell you: timing and words.

After my last blog about getting through icky conversations in relationships, I received such positive feedback!  But people wanted to know how to?

Here are two strategies that have worked for me:

  1. The Dr. O Strategy: If you need to have an “important” conversation with someone, set a date for it.  Why?  It gives you both a chance to cool off and/or prepare for it. If you’re like me, you’ll need to have your talking points written down.  Also, she suggested opening a bottle of wine.  It is a conversation date, after all.  Set the mood.  Dim the lights even.  It’s much easier to discuss important matters in this kind of relaxed ambiance.
  2. DeBono’s Six Hats: The book pictured below was the last good thing I received out of my last bad relationship. (Go ahead: Re-read that sentence again.)

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Here’s the gist:

  • White hat = like computer paper, just the facts
  • Red hat = feelings and emotions
  • Black hat = consequences, possible future negative impacts, cautionary
  • Yellow hat = sunny side up, optimism, positive impacts
  • Green hat = grow like grass, innovation, move forward
  • Blue hat = eyes in the sky, God-like omniscience, oversees all other hats

At first, I only used this in my classroom with my students.
Here’s a typical lesson.  Let’s take one of Kelly Gallagher’s Articles of the Week.  For the sake of example we’ll use “Warning: Vaping Teens Becoming a New Generation of Nicotine Addicts” from USA Today.  The prep work would be to fill out a Six Hat Thinking graphic organizer before Friday’s Socratic Seminar.

With their prep work in hand, they’re able to say things like, “Using the white hat, the article stated that 11% of high school seniors vaped nicotine in 2017.”
Another student pipes up red hat style, “That’s ridiculous!  There’s way more kids than that who are vaping! And vaping is disgusting!  Popcorn lung?  No thanks!  Gross!”
By using this strategy, if things gets too heated, someone has the tool to say, “Let’s take off our red hats and just focus on the yellow stuff for now.”  Or “Jason, I notice that you’re using a lot of red hat language.  Let’s shift the focus.  Can you share your notes from a different color hat?”

It’s that simple.

I quickly realized that this strategy would work wonders outside of my classroom as well–with parent-teacher conferences, with friends, with family members; and of course, within my own personal relationships.

Why?  Because using the hats helps separate facts from feelings.

So how did I get through my icky conversation with Matt the other day?  We used a combination of both strategies.

  1. Matt requested a date to discuss our ick.  We set it on the calendar.  Check!
  2. With a few days to prep myself, I wrote out my talking points, which were intentionally separated into two categories: the facts (white hat) and my feelings (red hat).  Check!
  3. The date came.  We trudged our way through the sludge like Andy Dufresne in “The Shawshank Redemption” and came out the other side.  And magically, the yellow and green hats almost always appear Houdini-like on the other side of these challenging conversations.

“I feel so much better.  I’m so glad we were able to talk about that, honestly.  It feels so good to have that kind of emotional intimacy in our relationship. Thank you.”  #Yellow
“Okay, moving forward, here’s what we need to do to make our relationship even better…” #Green

Take it from me (somebody who had more confusing walls than an M.C. Escher lithograph), you can do this!  As long as both parties are willing to meet to talk, you got this!

These kind of intimate conversation dates are “important” for any relationship to flourish.  “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better, ” said Maya Angelou.

And Maya Angelou is one woman we CANNOT let down, people.

We can do better. We can be better.




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