3 Timely Tips For, “We Need To Talk”

“Dan, we need to talk.”

It’s not the most joyous thing to hear, is it?   In fact, it sucks.  When I hear those words, my heart falls into my boots.  And I’m thinking:  “What’s wrong? What did I do?”

So I respond, “Talk?  Now?  Can we do it later, like next month, or next year?  I’ve got a couple really important things to do – wash the cat, clean the toilets, shopping.”

My behavioural style is one that tends to avoid conflict.  So when I hear that lovely phrase mentioned above, my tendency is to go into the ostrich position – head in the sand and hopefully the danger will go away.

But what happens when my head is in the sand?  Another part of my anatomy is sticking in the air and eventually it will get … kicked.

What about you?

When you hear those words, “We need to talk” whether it is from a spouse, boss, colleague, or child, it means it is definitely time for a dialogue – not later, but now. These 3 tips will ensure you make the best of it:

  1. Focus
  3. Thank them.

Here’s what these tips mean, and how to apply them effectively for greatest value.


This means to totally turn everything else out of your mind and to put all of your attention on the other person. If you need to, ask for a brief moment to eliminate any distractions (turn off your phone, TV, radio). This indicates you care about them.  This also gives you a moment to take a deep breath or two, turn off the reactive clutter that was in your mind, and to be mentally open to whatever comes. Position your body so you can make eye contact and be totally in the moment for the next tip.


Listening is an art and a science, yet you won’t find it as a part of the curriculum in most schools. It is much more than simply hearing; it is also understanding precisely what the other person is thinking, saying, and feeling.  Your body posture and facial expression play a big part too.

Yes, this is easier said than done.

listen with big earsIt takes conscious effort to set aside perceptions, judgements, agendas, ego and to listen to understand. It takes conscious effort to keep your body relaxed and your facial expression positive, or at least neutral.

Listening is actually a collaborative process between two people.  Both must be willing and wanting it to happen.  The listener must be willing to ask short open-ended questions or statements for clarification, with the intent to understand. And the speaker must be willing to share thoughts and feelings honestly and accountably, using words such as, “I, me, and my,” rather than “you” with the intention to have understanding.

What kind of questions or statements?  Here are examples:

“Please tell me a bit more about __________ (their exact words)”

“How are you feeling about ___________?”

“I want to understand.  Please tell me again how you see that part about ________ ”

I find the listening process much simpler when I affirm to myself that what I hear is just information I can use to enhance the relationship.

When both people think and feel the dialogue is complete, the next tip is extremely important.

Thank them

If the other person has come to the point to utter those words, “we need to talk,” it means they have been going through mental anguish for quite some time already. Something has been bugging them and they have finally mustered the courage to bring it to the light.thank you

Showing them appreciation builds trust and helps them understand you care.  As the old saying goes, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

“We need to talk.”  To me, these words are not about conflict anymore. Instead, I see them as a really great opportunity to bring me closer together with the other person when I consciously, consistently and persistently apply the 3 tips above.

What do these tips do for you?

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