Relationship Fitness

S14: Communication Skills E8: Know What to Talk About

In “Relationship Workout for Men,” Season 14 Episode 8 titled “Know What to Talk About,” Vince emphasizes the importance of choosing the right topics for discussion to ensure constructive and meaningful conversations within relationships. He introduces ten potential topics that can be explored during challenging discussions, aiming to shift the focus from the effects of an issue to its causes. Vince advocates for a deeper understanding of each partner’s perspective by separating facts from assumptions, discussing intentions, and addressing emotional responses. Through this episode, Vince sets the groundwork for the next season, where each topic will be explored in depth, encouraging listeners to approach difficult conversations with curiosity, care, and an open mind, fostering a pathway to finding a balanced and truthful narrative in their relationships.

Welcome to Relationship Workout for Men, a podcast dedicated to helping men be intentional in choosing a better partner, and being a better partner for the person they choose.

Season 14 Episode 8: Know What to Talk About

In this episode, we discuss Relationship Workout Communication Skill #7: Know What to Talk About.

Finally, you two are sitting on the couch, and the time has come to have the talk. You’re ready. You’re hanging with your Wisdom, breathing calmly, and remembering not to take things personally. You’ve also set your cooperative intention, as you check in with your non-verbal cues. You might also remind yourself of what triggers might come up for both of you, as you make it a point to stay present and keep it safe to speak honestly.

Or perhaps something just happened and in the blink of an eye one of you is fuming mad, uncontrolled words blurting out like vomit after a drinking binge. In an instant, you need to get your internal house in order because the conversation has started, and you’d be well served to show up as best you can.

In any case, you’re now faced with two fundamental questions: 

  1. What do you talk about? 
  2. And where’s the most effective place to start?

So, what are the potential topics to discuss during what may well be a difficult conversation?

If you’re like most of us, you probably say whatever’s top of mind during a difficult conversation. This can be especially true when you find yourself lobbing accusations back and forth. 

Unfortunately, this approach can find each of you saying a lot of words, but not really getting into the meat of both of your points of view. In fact, you may very well spend more time talking about the “effects” of the issue, and much less time on the “causes.” 

For instance, let’s say she’s late for the umpteenth time, and you’re feeling frosted. If you immediately launch into a major complaint about her being late, she might feel attacked and retaliate with complaints of her own. If this happens, you two really aren’t talking about what is causing her to be constantly late, nor why her being late makes you feel so angry. After all, her being late might not bother another person; why does it bother you so much?

That said, there are at least ten potential topics that can be discussed throughout a difficult conversation. Each question represents a potential window to deeper understanding. These ten topics are:

  1. What happened, separating the real facts from assumptions and perceptions? 
  2. What are you thinking, including perceptions, assumptions, and interpretations? 
  3. How are you feeling, including both emotional and physical sensations?
  4. What were your intentions, separating intentions from impact?
  5. What is your gut telling you, separating intuition from fear?
  6. How is your identity wrapped up in the issue?
  7. What are your expectations, hot buttons and triggered Demons.
  8. How did you contribute to the issue?
  9. How Would You Like Things to be Different?
  10. How is the conversation going?

Clearly, not all conversations require all ten questions to be discussed, but if a conversation is ever going sideways, you can use one of them to reboot the dialogue. 

In Season 15, Ten Communication Topics, we’ll devote an episode to each of these Relationship Workout “What to Talk About” 10 topics.

Of course, regardless of the topic, it’s important to keep it all truthful.

So, what is the “truth” when there is a disagreement between two partners?

Actually, there are three truths with foundations in the three stories waiting to be told. There’s your story, which you may cling to with iron fists as the rock-solid truth. There’s her story, which she may swear up and down on a box of tissues as being the whole truth. And, then there’s the mysterious third story. This third story ultimately combines aspects of both of your stories, and perhaps additional information neither of you are aware of until you have had the conversation.

The trick to being a strong communicator is to blend your two stories into a balanced and truthful third story.

A weak communicator goes into the “conversation” playing both judge and jury, finding the other person with a different point of view guilty as charged (by the weak communicator, that is). “I’m right and you’re wrong” is the approach taken. For whatever reason, the weak communicator doesn’t believe that the other person is entitled to his or her point of view. What follows allows for little to no room or openness for a blended and more balanced third story.

On the other hand, a strong communicator works to understand and to be understood, ultimately finding the more balanced, third-story perspective. This perspective begins with giving the other person the space to have a valid point of view that is different from yours.

Unfortunately, finding the elusive third story can be difficult, especially for the tougher issues. However, here are three over-arching points that can help:

  1. Stay curious. Curiosity fuels open-minded, non-judgmental questions and resulting dialogue. In other words, there’s a big difference between thinking: “How the hell could she be thinking that!?” versus thinking: “What information does she have that I don’t have that leads her to think that?” When you stay curious about her point of view, you also don’t hijack a conversation to only talk from your side of the story.
  2. Stay caring. If you continue to care for each other through your thoughts and actions, you’ll enable curiosity to fuel questions and answers. In other words, patience guided by love is much more helpful and effective than frustration fueled through impatience. 
  3. Embrace both stories. As soon as you judge the other person as wrong and you as right, then you’ve lost the curiosity, care and compassion. This does not mean you have to completely agree with each other’s points of view. Rather, it means giving each other the space and respect to have differing points of view.

That said, in every difficult conversation, you need to figure out what to talk about en route to finding that more balanced third story. Again, we’ll discuss all ten “What to Talk About” topics in season 15.

But before we get there, let’s continue discussing the Relationship Workout Communication Skills, moving onto skill #8: Have an Effective Conversation.

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