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Healthy Communication: When and How to Reopen a Conversation

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Healthy Communication

Healthy communication is always challenging, especially when you are caught off guard about something and are left speechless. Recently I had a conversation with a colleague that left me feeling empty and disappointed. He informed me of a  policy that would directly impact my involvement within our organization, and not in a good (or fair) way. Although I maintained diplomacy, I also didn’t say what needed to be said and as a result, left the conversation without closure. Days later, I kicked myself for not having said a whole slue of things that would have been very poignant, and possibly would have had an impact on my future with the organization. But the moment was lost and needless to say, I felt frustrated.

When we leave a conversation wishing we had handled it differently, it can be maddening. Often, we replay the scenario over and over in our minds, thinking of all of the things we could have (or should have) said in the moment. Yet, this never really makes us feel better. If anything, we feel even worse. Healthy communication is a two-way street, and so, reopening the perceived “closed conversation” might be your best option. It pays, however, to be especially thoughtful in your approach so that you don’t leave anything else on the table the second time around:

  1. Assess Re-Do Opportunities: Rarely is a conversation or topic completely closed. Although the first conversation might not have gone as you would have hoped, decide whether or not you can revisit the topic, and whether or not it is worth reopening the conversation. Even though we can be frustrated, sometimes addressing the topic a second time can make things worse or do further harm.
  2. Evaluate an Appropriate Response: If you believe reopening the conversation makes sense, spend time outlining what you want to say and how you want to say it. Think through all of the scenarios that could play out, and try to come up with solutions or answers to the questions that the other person might present. Figure out how you will go about reopening the conversation too. If the other party thinks the conversation is over, you may need to explain your reasoning for bringing it up again. For instance, you might say “After thinking about our conversation about X, I felt that it was important to highlight Y and Z.” Stating that you “thought about something” is always a good reason to reengage a topic.
  3. Think Through Format: In person conversations are always optimal for healthy communication, however, if documentation of what is said is important, consider responding via email. Doing so leaves a communication trail that can provide proof, if need be, of the exchange in the future.
  4. Choose the Right Timing: Timing is everything. On one hand, waiting too long after the initial conversation could make it difficult to reopen the dialogue, but putting in “time to think through” the first conversation might be to your advantage. Make sure to give the second attempt at the conversation the time and space it deserves. Also, keep in mind any other events that could impact the outcome of the exchange. Finally, make sure you schedule the conversation or email at a time when you know you’ll have the full attention of the other person, for the duration you need. Otherwise you run the risk of being rushed which could result in a repeat situation.

If you choose to reopen a conversation, make your best effort to say all that needs to be said, because you may not have a third chance to say it. Healthy communication takes work, but when we achieve it, it is completely worth the effort.

52 Small ChangesLearn more about healthy communication in 52 Small Changes: One Year to a Happier, Healthier You. Get it now at Amazon.com.

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Posted in Brett's Blog, Mind-Body