As you have noticed weddings bring up a lot of things for a lot of people. You are probably going to find yourself having to have a lot of tricky conversations that you never saw coming. The most important thing you can do is have them. Giving people you care about the dignity of a face to face conversation is a beautiful gesture that can change the tone and trajectory of a relationship. And while it takes energy and effort ,it’s always worth it. The second most important thing to remember about having hard conversations is to do it softly. How you show up energetically is more important than what you say. So if a subject is delicate or tender, do the obvious thing and handle it gently. Soften when the stakes and emotions are running high. And finally, here is my take on the framework Mel Robbins outlines for successfully tackling tough conversations.
1. The Gentle Start Up. You can predict the outcome of a conversation by what happens in like the first two minutes. So you definitely want to get yourself together and make sure you’re in a really calm and open space yourself. Your energy state will matter tremendously as will the words you choose to start. You don’t want to start with your demand or your criticism. You want to start with how you feel and how you would like to hear how and why and what they feel. So instead of saying to your future mother in law “I am here to tell you that there is no way I am getting married under a chuppah” you would say “ I am feeling stressed and overwhelmed about how to create a ceremony that both families feel good about. Can we talk through options and get creative?” You want to really, really demonstrate early on that you are coming in gently- in words and energy. Can’t you just feel the difference? We know from psychology that when people feel even a little attacked they shift into defensiveness and it’s really hard to shift out when your brain is locked into that antagonistic place. You are all on the same team, not enemies.
2. Own Your Part. This is where you take responsibility for whatever you can in things having gotten heated or awkward or tense. So when you come in and say, “Hey, listen, I know that I haven’t really been explaining myself very well, or I haven’t been exactly clear about what I wanted, or maybe I didn’t tell you how important this was to me. And so I understand how we’ve gotten into this icky place. And I am sorry for being unclear or I’m sorry for being a little snippy or defensive or guarded.” When you own your part of it, take responsibility and acknowledge that disconnect, it will allow your person to relax and feel more open and less defensive.
3. Listen. Next is the part where you get really quiet and listen. Not listen like wait until they stop talking so you can get back to your point but truly listen to what they are saying. The thing people crave most in life and in wedding planning is to feel seen and heard and acknowledged. Because this person is your teammate. It’s you two against the problem: the ceremony details, budget, guest count or whatever. When you remember that, you will want to listen. And you want to validate what they are saying so they know you do see their perspective. So you can say “I hear that. It’s really frustrating when your other child got married and you didn’t get to have this part of your culture represented, or I hear what you’re saying about the importance of your coworkers attending.”
4. Wrap Up. Hopefully at this point the conversation has gone better than previous ones because you are soft in your startup, you’re owning your part, you’re hearing and validating what they say. Now you’re going to restate the outcome. You are going to leave this conversation with a new agreement, a decision made, a plan to move forward. It doesn’t mean that everybody’s happy or satisfied. It can be almost where you started. Perhaps you’re keeping your same menu. Perhaps you’re keeping your same guest count or whatever it is, but you’ve taken the time to have the hard conversation instead of just letting it stay out in the ether. That’s when it becomes poisonous.
When someone in your inner circle goes through this whole wedding planning process feeling like they never had a moment to be consulted or heard or asked or acknowledged, it can be destructive moving forward. Even if it can’t be brought into fruition for the real event, you have been productive in building rapport and trust and solid foundation for future tough moments. Because, like I keep saying these people will be around after your wedding. The details of these conflicts and hard conversations will change but the players won’t so this time is not wasted. It’s a great investment in your future peace of mind.