How to Speak when it Matters Most

Have you ever had something really important to say, but it just didn't come out right?  Maybe you felt hurt by your spouse and needed them to hear your point of view without getting defensive, or you had something really important to share with a friend or co-worker. 

When we have something important to say we need to take time to prepare, and our five fingers can help us phrase things so our words are more likely to be well received.*

Your thumb brings to mind "thumbs up" and reminds you to begin by remembering what's good.  Sometimes it takes a long time to remember what's good, but the harder it is, the more important it is, too.  Why is this person important to you?  What can you respect about their point of view?  What do you admire about them?  Begin by remembering what's good.

Your index finger is in the shape of an "I" and reminds you to speak from your own point of view. Avoid verbally shaking your index finger at the other person by bringing up what is 'right,' 'normal,' or anything else that reeks of judgement.  Sharing your perspective invites conversation, whereas sharing your judgments tends to shut them down.

Your middle finger reminds you of some things you need to avoid.  Avoid trigger words that easily offend or hurt the other person. "Absolutes" like 'always' and 'never' rarely are. 

Your ring finger reminds you to share all that is important to you.  Share your thoughts and feelings, your concerns and desires.  Share authentically and deeply about why this matters to you.  We can't connect to the heart of the other if we don't share from our own.

Your pinky finger brings to mind a "pinky promise" and reminds you to ask for what you want and to be specific.  We can't expect others to read our minds or read between the lines. 

Now take a minute and think about a difficult conversation that didn't go smoothly.  Which 'finger' was missing from the conversation?  

All of us have difficult conversations we need to have.  We owe it to ourselves, each other, and our relationships to approach them with foresight and skill.   

This is one way that's helped me. 

In the comments, tell us how do you prepare for difficult conversations?


*this is an adaptation of Expression Skill taught by Mary Ortwein and Bernard Gurney in Mastering the Mysteries of Love.