7 Ways to Foster Honest Conversation in Troubling Times
We’re programmed to face chin up and cheerful into whatever life brings. The etiquette of our upbringing in the 50s and 60s warned that people don’t want to hear our problems, only to exchange pleasantries and move along.
A Need of Deeper Conversations
I suppose that was true at some time in recent history, but with the advent of the information age and the mass migration to social media, things have evolved.
There is still plenty of room for cheerful greetings as we pass a stranger on the street, but as we sink deeper into this time of global pandemic and advanced age, it seems to me we must cultivate deeper and more meaningful relationships. Of course, that’s only my opinion.
Yesterday, I shared an intriguing conversation with my closest friend who lamented the “old lady” walking group she recently joined was leaving her agitated.
“I don’t want to talk any more. I want to chat – about their favorite movies, what we’re all cooking for dinner, and the latest best seller.”
Overdose of Reality
As a former family counselor, and my treasured friend of more than three decades, I was surprised by her out-of-character reaction. But this morning, having ample time to consider what might be at the source of her impatience for serious exchange, I now wonder if she may be suffering from an overdose of reality.
And rightly so, we’ve been enduring this devastating virus for nearly a year. And as with many other conditions affecting family and lifestyle, the responsibility of how to adapt has fallen primarily on the women.
We’ve all done an extraordinary job, cooking, home schooling, administering sympathy to those who struggle with the isolation, even providing respite for adult sons and daughters when their demanding lives crash up on the shores of health protocols and work-from-home pressures overwhelm them.
For the most part, we’ve succeeded, but what is surfacing now is fatigue. We’re struggling to hold it all up much longer.
Having a Tribe to Share with
But still, I pondered, why the resistance to sharing the details of this difficult time in the women’s group? One possible reason occurred to me early this morning. This group is comprised of unrelated women with no previous bond. They are not friends. It’s not her tribe.
I wonder if she might feel differently if it were a small gathering of her closest companions and confidants, or even more likely, if it were she and I sharing how we feel. My guess is, absolutely. And that’s good because we need our friends right now.
But how do we evoke the trust and candor to help us lay down, just for the moment, the weight of our lives, the fears, and sadness brought on by a situation we don’t control and can only react to as effectively as we’re able?
How do we open up? How do we install a place and instill a sense of freedom into our relationship that invites meaningful conversation and comfort in our exchange?
Here are my thoughts.
Start Where You’re Most Comfortable
Choose the person you trust the most to accept honesty from you, and see how it feels to release what you’re holding in. Tell them how you feel, what you miss, what you fear, and how you are. Chances are you will receive support and gentle encouragement, which in return may give you the courage to talk more honestly to others.
Deliver Information as an Entrée to Deeper Exchange
Use the daily news as an icebreaker. When you read stories about how others are being impacted emotionally, financially, within their relationships with family and friends, bring the topic up in your conversation and let it lead to sharing your personal experience.
Choose a Comfortable Distance
If you’re uncomfortable with a face-to-face conversation, send an email, use Facebook messenger or mail a card with a sincere message. Often times, a written communique allows us to express ourselves more fully without feeling self-conscious.
Ask your friend about her experience. See if she is, perhaps, just waiting for someone to show an interest to open the floodgates of what has been building up inside.
Listen with the Best Intentions
Remember to be an active listener. Listen to understand and support, letting her fully express herself, then take your turn to share what is going on with you.
Take the Next Step into Intimacy
Promise your support, offer help and validate feelings. Try to avoid judgement and giving advice, as it often hampers honest expression. Start gently and be patient. You are making strides toward a more intimate relationship and that takes time and trust. We are all a little raw and on edge right now.
Make it a Habit
Commit to talking again soon. Once communication is opened up, it needs to be nurtured. Even frequent virtual visits will do.
This difficult time, if met with an open heart and compassion, can be an opportunity for newfound connection that could enrich our live and perhaps even last a lifetime.
Do you suffer from lack of deep, intimate communication? Why do you think that is? Or have you found a way to deepen your relationships with friends and family? Please share what you like to go deep about with friends and with whom you prefer to stay in the shallow waters.