Second in a two-part series on Getting Unstuck
Last week I shared my regrets about not having posted a column for so long. My remorse was layered with awkwardness over having dropped the ball with you, my reader. I felt that there was an elephant in our cyber room, one that needed addressing.
Fortunately, I remembered a strategy taught by my professor Jerry Goodman from UCLA (see Talk Doctor for more about self-disclosure):
“When in Trouble, Disclose on the Double.”
Sometimes a conversation or relationship seems to be going in the wrong direction. Tension builds and mistrust creeps in, leading to misinterpretations, confrontation, embarrassment, and frustration. People typically get aggressive, defensive and just plain pig-headedly stubborn at these times, none of which helps the situation. When a relationship gets very uncomfortable – that is to say, when your positive connection with someone else seems to be deteriorating, or even disappearing – try a new strategy. Reverse the course by confessing your struggle or commenting on the emotionally relevant “elephant” in the room. (As I did with you last week.)
Commenting on an emotionally tense situation by using self-disclosure often changes both the rhythm and outcome of an interaction by disarming your partner. It can turn the tone of a tense exchange from competitive (disappointing, hostile, or distant) to cooperative.
Making yourself vulnerable by opening up can defuse the underlying sense of combativeness, introducing a sense of togetherness and camaraderie, which helps everyone relax. You can also use a self-disclosure to postpone a difficult encounter until a time when emotions are not running so high.
How to use self-disclosure to reduce tension in a conversation or interaction?
Next time you are in an emotionally strained conversation, when the tune is one of discord rather than harmony, remember that "When in trouble, disclose on the double." Consider a new option - comment on the process of the conversation rather than the content. Even if you don't know what is going on and can't "fix" an interaction, self-disclosure can often improve both the direction and the tone.
- Comment on how you feel ("I dread where this is going.")
- Comment on how you imagine the other person feels. ("I see this is hard for you.")
- Comment on the process ("I think we are getting stuck - shall we finish another time?")
- Admit your mistakes and avoid excuses. (" I didn't handle this well.")
- Acknowledge your flaws ("This is not my strong suit.")