Authentic Communication for Challenging Interactions

It happens to all of us on a regular basis.  We’re going about our daily lives, interacting with the people in our lives.  And then, something happens, and we find ourselves starting to feel very uncomfortable with someone.  Perhaps you feel some tension rising as you sense some disagreement or conflict may be just around the corner.  Perhaps you are entering into a negotiation with someone where something important is at stake.  Perhaps someone is coming to you with a problem or difficulty.  This is what I call a Challenging Interaction.

Challenging interactions come in many forms.  They can happen with anyone – a friend, a family member, a neighbor, or a co-worker.  They seem to be especially more charged when they are with an intimate partner.   The come in so many different forms, it’s hard to come up with a definition that suites them all – but we all know when we’re having one.  Our emotions become more intense, and often we feel uncomfortable.  We know just how much our choice of words matters in these situations, yet, these are the very situations where we tend to express ourselves most ineffectively and without clarity.  Often we say things we don’t really mean and the situation becomes worse.  See if you can recognize some common responses you may have used in challenging interactions:

  • You make vague or oblique hints about what you really want with out saying it clearly
  • You try your best to be “tactful” and “polite”
  • You hope and pray that you have reached some kind of mutual understanding – but you avoid actually confirming it
  • You begin to make long-winded statements in generalized and abstract terms
  • You attempt to rush through the discomfort to get it over with and things can go back to “normal”
  • You put on your best face, hiding as best as you can any feelings of unease
  • You talk about a past circumstance or story that relates some how to what is happening – instead of actually talking about what is happening
  • You hide your true motives because you believe it gives you an upper hand in eventually getting your way
  • You “give-in” or “play nice”, often agreeing to something that you truly would not prefer – for the sake of keeping the peace

I can see some of you nodding with astonishment and recognition.  You’ve tried these kinds of strategies in the past, and while you may have had limited success – you can see just how much effort and energy it requires.  You are also dissatisfied with how inconsistent your results are.  I call this set of strategies the “passive” approach, because often there is some degree of avoidance, reluctance, or acquiescence.

You might be saying “that’s not me!” if you’re rather proud of your directness, assertiveness, and yes, at times, forcefulness.  This brings me to another set of strategies that I call the “pushy” approach. If this is your angle when faced with a challenging interaction, you will recognize yourself here:

  • You make up your mind about what you want before any discussion and are determined to have it
  • You express strong emotions, such as self-assurance, hyper-enthusiasm, and even anger when people disagree with you
  • You make demands and ultimatums
  • You make short, generalized, absolute value judgments
  • You try to beat down disagreement, crush the competition, and win the discussion at any cost
  • You resort to insult, tantrum, or shouting when the going gets tough
  • You are used to either getting your way, or alienating other people – with little or no middle ground

If you’re like most people, you find yourself very familiar with one set of strategies or the other.  When you look honestly at your past, you probably recognize various times when you have used both.  There are benefits and costs to playing the communication game with either approach.  You may be dissatisfied with your favored approach, but you feel stuck and unwilling to change because it seems that the only other possible way is the opposite approach – and there’s no way you’re going to do that!

What would you say if I told you there was another way?

Well there is!  To find your way out of this false dichotomy requires an understanding of the surprising commonalities behind these two approaches.  At their core, both approaches arise from a similar limited kind of mentality:

  • Dishonesty
  • Fear
  • An addiction to external validation
  • Scarcity mentality
  • Self-victimization
  • A compulsion to try and control and manipulate others

Also in common, are a set of costs that we incur when we communicate in these ways:

  • Loss of connection and trust
  • Bitterness and resentment
  • Loneliness and isolation

The answer is what I call Authentic Communication – a set of communication techniques and internal attitudes that help free you from your fears and bring you closer to others.  At the heart of the Authentic Communication process is a focus on mutual understanding through uncovering what motivations are underlying our communication.  When you place your attention on mutual understanding and connection first and foremost – conflicts, disagreements, and negotiations will seem to resolve themselves magically!

If this sounds like something you would like to learn more about, please sign-up for a free coaching session, and I will get back in touch with you soon!


  1. Lisa Josephsen says:

    Hey, Michael,
    I saw your info in the Christmas newsletter and thought I’d log on and say hi! Be well-

  2. Eydie says:

    I am really interested in learb]ning more about how I can focus my communication on ‘mutual understanding’. I look forward to hearing from you.

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