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Difficult discussions – sober

By Posted in Skills and Tips

Today, we continue with our theme of difficult discussions and share some techniques that can help with them.


Non-violent communication techniques for difficult discussions

Nothing is perfect, and relationships with other people as we are changing our drinking can be testing. Emotions about others can be triggers to make us hit the f**ck it button. It can also feel very disheartening when someone close to us is scuppering our attempts. We naturally run away from conflict.

Avoiding dealing with the emotions created by other people’s behaviour won’t help you reach your drinking goal, and is just putting off the problem for another day. However difficult it may feel, it’s worth trying to have a conversation. It may take several attempts (just like changing your drinking). It may feel painful (and if you are alcohol-free right now you may feel that very acutely). But it is worth riding that discomfort to get to a more positive place.

I have been trying to use Non-Violent Communication methods. It is a hard technique to master, but really useful to start exploring, as you begin to realise that the ways we are taught to argue and debate are actually quite confrontational in style – and can often make things worse.

Non-Violent Communication (NVC) includes a simple method for clear, empathic communication, consisting of four steps:

NVC aims to find a way for all present in a discussion to get what really matters to them without the use of guilt, humiliation, shame, blame, coercion, or threats.

For example

1. State the observations that are leading you to feel the need to say something.These should be purely factual observations, with no component of judgment or evaluation. People often disagree about evaluations because they value things differently, but directly observable facts provide a common ground for communication. For example,

2. State the feeling that the observation is triggering in you. Or, guess what the other person is feeling, and ask. Naming the emotion, without moral judgment, enables you to connect in a spirit of mutual respect and cooperation. Perform this step with the aim of accurately identifying the feeling that you or the other person are experiencing in that moment, not with the aim of shaming them for their feeling or otherwise trying to prevent them from feeling as they do. Feelings are sometimes hard to put into words.

3. State the need that is the cause of that feeling. Or, guess the need that caused the feeling in the other person, and ask. When our needs are met, we have happy, pleasant feelings; when they are not met, we have unpleasant feelings. By tuning into the feeling, you can often find the underlying need. Stating the need, without morally judging it, gives you both clarity about what is alive in you or the other person in that moment.

4. Make a concrete request for action to meet the need just identified. Ask clearly and specifically for what you want right now, rather than hinting or stating only what you don’t want. For the request to really be a request – and not a demand – allow the other person to say no or to propose an alternative. You take responsibility for getting your own needs met, and you let them take responsibility for theirs.

Whilst I think it is a difficult technique to master, just realising that the way we discuss things can be counterproductive, and knowing that our own shame and guilt about our drinking often stops us from asking for support is really helpful. It opens the door to having the difficult discussions we need, to help us make the changes we want. Give it a whirl!

Here is a handout that helps you structure a conversation. And a book on the topic.

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