Written by : Michele Gravelle 

6 Steps to Healthy, Productive Conversations

As part of Live Happy’s special series 90 Days to a Happier You, we’ve gathered top experts from around the country with unbeatable advice about how we can change habits and live better in 2016. Below, in the first part of her ongoing blog series, communication expert Michele Gravelle walks us through the steps to more productive conversations with loved ones.

Do you ever wish you could handle your most difficult conversations without getting stressed or upset? The good news is that you can learn to improve your conversational skills and understand your emotional reactions. In fact, by working on your communication “muscles” as part of your daily exercise routine, you will be able to break through the barriers you may be having in your important relationships at work and at home and experience a greater ease and harmony in yourself and your connections with others.

Here is the six-step process of how to improve your difficult conversations. We’ll cover each one of these in more depth in future blogs.

1. Listen to your internal voice

Your internal voice—all the thoughts, feelings, judgments and opinions you are thinking but not overtly saying—tells you a lot about yourself. Keep a journal so you can jot down what you were thinking and feeling right after having a difficult conversation. Often, the most volatile parts of a conversation are unspoken. Be rigorously honest with yourself: What might you be thinking about that is leaking into the conversation through your tone, facial expressions and body language. Think about how the other person might be interpreting what you are saying and how you are saying it.

2. Be clear, specific and over-explain yourself

Don’t assume the other person can read your mind or get your hints. Explain how you arrived at your thoughts or conclusions. Remember, you are the only one who knows what you mean, so share your thought process with the other person and double check to make sure he or she understands where you’re coming from.

3. Inquire, get curious

Get curious in your conversations, both about yourself and about the other person. Ask these questions of yourself as a way to prepare for the conversation: What have I said or done (or not said and done) in this situation that may have been misinterpreted? How might I have negatively impacted this other person? What do I need to own up to?

Ask these questions out loud in the conversation with the other person: How do you see things differently than I do? What am I missing that you want me to know about? Help me understand what this situation means to you?

4. Understand emotional triggers

We all have triggers that act as our barometer for whether we feel we are being treated well or not. When these emotional needs are not met in conversation, we get upset. And in turn when we don’t adequately meet others’ needs, knowingly or not, we are triggering them as well. (We will discuss triggering more in a future blog.)

5. Empathize

One of the most powerful skills you can practice is empathy. We show empathy by asking questions to better understand the person we’re talking with. When we hear our conversation partner expressing complex emotions, we might summarize or repeat what they’ve said back to them to show that we are listening with empathy.

6. Coach the people in your life about how they can best communicate with you

We often assume that the people in our lives should just naturally know how to talk to us. We will discuss in the next blog how you can proactively coach the people in your life so they will better understand how to interact with you.

Read Michele’s second blog here, and her final blog in the series here.

Want to hear more about communicating with loved ones from Michele? Listen to her on our podcast here.

To see Michele’s recommendations in action, read communication coaching “subject” Susan Kane’s blog here.

Michele Gravelle is an experienced executive coach, communications expert and consultant with The Triad Consulting Group. She also facilitates executive education programs at the Harvard Negotiation Institute and Duke Corporate Education, and is a contributing author to the book Enlightened Power: How Women Are Transforming the Path to Leadership.

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