The Most Important Thing to Do Before a Difficult Conversation


“You are your choices.” ~Seneca

After four years of radio silence, a former flame appeared in my inbox.

We set up a time to talk later that week. And when the day came, right on time, he called.

We talked. I had many questions. He explained the best he could. The conversation eased into Taoism and Twitter. Totally comfortable.

But for the twenty-four hours beforehand, I was bracing myself.

I was expecting long, awkward silences, angry words, and maybe even a premature hanging up of the phone. In case it’s not clear, things hadn’t ended so well with us.

And if I had lunged into the conversation with all that tightness and fear, I probably wouldn’t be writing these words right now.

Because all my tightness and fear would more than likely have generated tightness and fear in him, and there would be nothing enlightening or inspiring to share out of that.

But thankfully, that’s not how this story pans out.

Here is what actually happened:

I set aside an hour before the call. I didn’t have a plan for what I’d do in that hour. I just knew that it was going to be a time of relaxation and rest.

I sang sweet pop songs while making my bed. I took a long, hot shower. I put on my favorite dress and snuggled with my puppy.

And then I sat cross-legged on my bed and, as Marianne Williamson puts it, I invited the Holy-Holy to “enter where You already abide.”

I meditated on words like “forgiveness” and “compassion.” And I also made room for words like “boundaries” and “clarity.”

The phone rang, and like I mentioned, the conversation went smoothly.

I’ve faced a string of difficult conversations lately and the consistent theme I’m noticing is this:

When I traipse up the stairs in last night’s pajamas with a smudge of peanut butter on my lip and a beeping phone in my hand, I am inviting more of that same messy, jumbled energy into the conversation I’m about to have.

If I want clarity and connection in my relationships, what the heck do I expect to happen when I begin our conversations with restless, twitching unfocused-ness?

What I bring to any interaction is (usually) what I receive from it.

So it boils down to this:

Before walking into tough conversations, we must get clear on who we want to be in that moment.

Before the birth control discussion with your daughter, take ten deep breaths. Remind yourself that you want her to understand the joy of sex and the life-shifting responsibilities it can bring.

Before you take away drunk Uncle Larry’s keys, ground yourself in the love and concern you feel for him and the safety of the other drivers and pedestrians on the road that night.

Before you walk into the big meeting, before you sign the divorce papers, before you say “I do,” pause and ask yourself:

Who do I want to be as I do this thing I’m about to do?

You might choose to be kind, open, attentive, loving.

You might prefer strong, firm, connected, a leader.

Inhale that. Affirm that. Be that.

This doesn’t mean that your body language and words will be in permanent alignment with the qualities you’ve chosen to focus on.

And it certainly doesn’t mean you’ll now morph into some super-human communicator deluxe.

You will still mess up, somehow. That’s part of being human.

But, I believe, you will mess up less.

I believe that when you get deliberate about the intention and energy you want to carry into a conversation or a room, you shift the dynamic.

The context moves from He-made-me-say-it to I choose these words. I choose these actions.

You are no longer floundering around.

You are no longer a victim or a puppet of the circumstances and people around you.

You’re making clear, conscious choices about the person you want to be. That’s what true power is. That’s what it means to create your life.

So before you open your mouth or write the email or turn the doorknob, be clear as seawater about who you want to be in that moment.

And then be that.

Photo by Benson Kua

About Annika Martins

Annika Martins is a spiritual curator, which is kinda like being a museum curator. Except instead of curating paintings, she curates spiritual practices, like art, meditation, and dance. She’s bringing together her favorite spiritual seekers for a revolutionary spiritual conference and she wants to see you there! See the Sacred. Your way. It’s all going down at AnnikaMartins.com.

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