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How to make difficult conversations easier


If you’re a folk music fanatic, you might know this phrase: “Strictly speaking for me, we could both have died instantly.”

This is singer-songwriter Joan Baez’s 1975 song “Diamonds and Rust”, widely considered to be inspired by Baez’s relationship with Bob Dylan. And according to bestselling author Susan Cain, it holds the key to making difficult conversations a whole lot easier.

The author appeared on Simon Sinek’s “A Bit of Optimism” podcast last month to discuss her latest book, “Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Makes Us Whole,” which focuses on the power of a state of bittersweet and melancholic spirit.

The song’s lyrics certainly qualify as bittersweet, but the most useful aspect of the line is more about the first four words of this line, Cain said, “Speaking strictly for me.”

Sinek backed her up: “Can you imagine if every opinion expressed by anyone, political or otherwise, started with ‘Speaking strictly for me? How disarming, but also how open-minded.”

This simple phrase does several key things at once, in Cain and Sinek’s estimation — all of which can help navigate difficult conversations.

For starters, it mirrors the often-recommended “I” rather than “you” statements that relationship counselors talk about. Generally, “I” statements – such as “I feel” and “I think” – are considered to elicit more positive responses than accusatory “you” statements, although there is some debate about the unique effectiveness of the concept. .

“If you say ‘I feel like that,’ that gets along way better than ‘you always do that,'” Cain said. “‘Speaking strictly for me’ is another version…of an ‘I’ statement.”

Because of this, the phrase can put a listener at ease. “Their shoulders relax as soon as they hear that phrase,” Cain said. “Nothing is exactly required of me right now. All I have to do is listen.”

Likewise, using “speak strictly for me” provides the person you’re talking to with a condensed instruction manual on how you want them to respond, Sinek said.

“When we have a tough conversation with someone that we need to hold space, we expect them to have the skills to hold space,” he said. “When I say ‘Speak strictly for me,’ I’m giving them instructions and cues on how to hold space.”

Finally, the phrase can be useful in conversations where both people are at least partially “right”. By clarifying your point of view, saying “speak strictly for me”, you can help encompass some of this gray area.

“What [the phrase] fact is… it allows for a conversation of bitterness, of sadness, of harshness, it allows those conversations to be received as they are intended,” Sinek said, rather than as accusations or judgments.

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