Setting the stage: It’s more important than you think.
Linda: I had to learn this one the hard way. In the early years of my relationship with Charlie whenever there was something that I felt that we needed to discuss, particularly something that was bothering me, I would launch into a conversation, leading with my concerns, often before Charlie had any sense of what was going on. Not surprisingly, he often didn’t know what hit him. To put it mildly, this wasn’t the best way to begin the conversation. While I usually felt like I was just being honest about my feelings, Charlie often felt like he was being broadsided by a medium-sized truck. Consequently, the result was that I was now dealing not only with the initial disturbance that had motivated me to speak out in the first place, but in addition, with Charlie’s (understandable) defensiveness and reactivity. Over time (more than I care to admit), I came to realize that Charlie was interpreting my gestures to heal a rift between us as a surprise attack, which didn’t exactly predispose him to being open and conciliatory. I want him to feel that way, but I had no models from my past experience of how to initiate important conversations in a respectful way. I was ignorant of how crucial it is to set the stage for an important dialogue.