How to Handle Awkward Conversations?

Do you ever find yourself in awkward conversations with friends or family where they are putting someone down or voicing an opinion that is uncomfortable for you?  What to do?  Until now, most of us have had one of three options. Choice #1:  Change the subject as quickly as possible or remove yourself.  “Excuse me, I need to go to the bathroom.”  Choice #2: Joke about it. Choice #3:  Go along to get along.  You know what that looks like.  You put a fake smile on and you go into agree mode – even if something in you doesn’t feel totally honest.  After all, how else CAN you respond?  So you kind of skirt the conversation as best you can but every now and then say something that you don’t actually mean.  That’s painful right?  

I recently had one of these experiences.  Friend A was voicing her opinion/concern about another friend of mine (Friend B) who is in the midst of building a mansion.  I, too, had a lot of uncomfortable feelings just after viewing the construction site.  It took me a while to figure out the needs related to my discomfort.  I felt happy for Friend B because I know she works hard, and I want all of us to celebrate her success.  On the other hand, I had thoughts about inequity and global resources and found myself mourning awareness, care, and shared values. 

I think Friend A was concerned about these things as well and she went on to say things like, “I just don’t know.  If I had that money, I just don’t think I would spend it like that.”  There was more said, but you get the point.  I was left frozen.  I could agree but I really wanted to avoid judgmental comments, or I could just change the subject (which would have been difficult and awkward) or perhaps make a joke, which has never been my forte’.  So I did that thing of kind of agreeing but not feeling totally cool about it.  Yuck!!  Was there a way to respond without judgment and with an ability to hold everyone with dignity?  

After the fact, I realized there was another response which would have been more connecting for all and more in integrity with how I want to show up in the world and in daily interactions.   In NVC I actually teach empathy – being present, understanding, and listening for the need underneath all the words.  Darn – how could I forget that?  The good news is that there will always be another opportunity – another time when I’m in one of those awkward conversations, and as I grow with the NVC process I have hope that I will remember this option more often than not.  Besides, now I have a story to share with the hope that you can live through me and remember the empathy a bit quicker in your own evolution.  Here’s to peace – internal, external, worldwide! 

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Reader Comments (1)

I am interested in a deeper understanding of the other option involving "empathy – being present, understanding, and listening for the need underneath all the words." What exactly could you have said or done? Please be specific. Thanks

July 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBarbara Frandsen

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