Honest Conversations in Relationships23 February 2021
Debra Mashek, Ph.D :
Last week the universe told me to do some thinking about honest conversations. On Monday I gave a talk titled Being Comfortable with Discomfort: Why and How to Pursue Difficult Conversations in the Classroom as part of Xavier University's series Conversations Across the American Divide. On Wednesday I did a radio spot with Lisa Valentine Clark on BYU Radio's The Lisa Show about why it is so darn hard to have honest conversations. And then on Saturday things got personal: I had to level with a friend, sharing that I wasn't yet able to have the honest conversation we needed to have because my heart needs more mending before I can do that conversation well.
And so here I am: Sunday night, margarita in hand, continuing my reflection on the "why" and "how" of honest conversations. Whether in intimate relationships or professional collaborations, being able to say what we mean and mean what we say enables us to have our needs met and to meet the needs of others.
Honest conversations start with believing that both you and the other person are naturally creative, resourceful, and whole. From that vantage point, we're all capable-and compelled, I think-to see and be seen; this includes our hopes, fears, insecurities, dreams, strengths, and weaknesses. We then muster the courage to share what we're really thinking and feeling, and the positive regard for our fellow humans to do so with grace and tact.
My research, teaching, and practice are all in relational domains: close relationships, community building, and collaboration. These are spaces where, in order to create closeness and connection, we need to be honest with ourselves and others about our intentions, needs, wants, and desires. By sharing what's really going on inside, we not only invite others to respond in kind by sharing their needs and wants, we also give them the opportunity to be responsive to our needs or to honor their own boundaries by saying no.
But, of course, honest conversations are difficult. They often concern aspects of our core selves-our identities, beliefs, and values. They require that we allow ourselves to be seen in all our imperfect messiness. We worry about hurting others' feelings or being rejected ourselves. We worry we will push others away, risking the very connection we cherish.
Realizing that some individuals are better at having honest conversations than others and that some relationships provide stronger containers than others in which these conversations can take place, I share here five ideas for developing our honest-conversation muscles. The more we practice these foundational skills, the more readily we will be able to lean into honest conversations when they matter most.
Learning how to engage honestly, courageously, and tactfully when difficult conversions kick up benefits all of our relationships, including those with our kids, life partners, colleagues, and collaborators. Frankly, doing so is a gift we give to ourselves and others. Honest conversations are difficult, not to mention essential.
(Debra Mashek, Ph.D., a social psychologist specializing in cultivating collaborations, researches the science of relationships).