Communication breakdowns often occur between couples or between anyone when one or more of the people involved are unable to face potential conflict. As opinions will always differ, this causes huge problems, particularly when things are not resolved and leave a lingering atmosphere or tension. This usually occurs when the conversation is crucial but the parties somehow are not equipped to have face it.
A crucial conversation is an exchange in which ?emotions differ, opinions are different and the stakes are high?. In theory, a crucial conversation can be had when there is trust present ? trust that the relationship will survive differences of opinion and skills to navigate a mutual solution; trust that each party values the relationship sufficiently to tolerate differences and conflict, and trust in each of the parties that they personally will survive their own emotions and experiencing other people?s. It is the latter point that I believe highlights why so many people find it so difficult to voice what everyone in an exchange ?knows? to be true.
To deal with conflict involving other people, a person must believe within himself or herself that they will survive any discomfort or anxiety associated with it. Speaking out on something that they anticipate will be judged or criticised raises anxiety ? not only in how to navigate the ensuing conversation but anxiety as to whether the relationship will survive the difference in opinion. Anxiety is further compounded by a fear (known or unknown at the time) of one?s own ability to witness and experience the other people/s emotions. Thus, in an attempt to avoid powerful feelings of embarrassment, shame, humiliation, anger, resentment etc, each person would rather live with the myth ? or indeed lie ? that things simply are not what they appear to be ? even if each knows that everyone concerned knows its opposite.
One might ask ?But is there anything wrong with this scenario? Surely it avoids conflict, diverts everyone from the exhaustion of constantly checking the strength of one?s values, opinions and belief, and oils the wheels of inter-subjective communication? Opinions would differ on this. For many of my clients, it causes enormous personal anxiety, misunderstandings, conflict and relationship breakdown. In deciding where you stand on this, consider what Sigmund Freud alerted us to when he indicated that ‘good mental health is a function of not holding any secrets’.