Scripting for Emotional Success

 Recently, a friend of mine informed me of a strategy that he used to handle a challenging conversation with his wife. This strategy allowed him to state his concerns without being interrupted. He succinctly summarized the main issues that he wanted to be discussed, that in the past were met with a defensive response. In the end, both parties felt heard and the challenging conversation lasted less than 15 minutes. Both parties were able to express their feelings and they experienced a sense of closure.

 At first, I was surprised when he informed me that he sent his wife a text message.

What? Texting!  That is crazy. How can you have an emotional conversation by texting?

In this instance, texting was only the medium of communication. The main strategy was creating a script of the desired conversation. The reason that my friend’s challenging conversation was successful was that he took the time to prepare. He took a long time to craft a message that supported the value of the relationship as well as stating concerns that needed to be addressed.

Before you drop everything and start texting someone you have an issue with, it is vital that you a) consider the other conversational partner’s communicative preferences and b) spend adequate time preparing what you want to communicate while considering the emotional needs of the recipient.

Writing your script.

The most important step in creating your message is writing and revising your ideas so the other person will consider your ideas without feeling attacked, insulted or put down. For your first draft, it is important for you to get all your issues on the page without a filter. DO NOT send the first draft since it will most likely include accusatory statements about the person you are sending it to. For example the possible first draft statement “I am sick and tired of you being inconsiderate and rude when you leave the kitchen a mess”, would most likely be considered an attack and the recipient of this message will likely move into a defense posture.

One important step in framing your comments to your conversational partner is to separate facts from emotion. For example, for the above it may be beneficial to state “I have observed that after you use the kitchen, the dishes remain dirty and there is food on the counter until the next meal”.

The next step in framing your thought is to own your feelings about the situation. “I feel frustrated when I want to use the kitchen; and there is someone else’s mess there”.

A very important step in this process is to include positive statements about the person or about the relationship as a part of the script. If you feel that the other person may have great difficulty being receptive to the feedback that you plan on giving them, it would be beneficial to incorporate more positive statements. When writing these positive statements, make sure you do not link the positive with a critique using the word “but”. (“I love you; but it frustrates me when the kitchen is a mess”). When you use “but” in this instance, you negate everything positive that you have said before the word “but”.

Using the examples above, let’s put it all together to see how this could work.

“I am very glad to have you as a roommate. I really appreciate that we get along and that can talk about most things. Lately, I have noticed that after you use the kitchen, the dishes remain dirty; and there is food on the counter until the next meal. I sometimes feel frustrated when I want to use the kitchen; and there is someone else’s mess there. I hope that we can work together to figure this out.

Once you have performed your first edit based on the steps above, re-read while imagining what the other person may think or feel when reading or hearing your words. Although you do not have control of how they will respond, you have a great influence in how that person may perceive your message. If the other person perceives your message as an attack, they will likely react by going into “fight or flight”, which will cause them to either emotionally shut down or verbally attack. If the other person attributes your message as an appeal for collaboration, there is a greater chance that you can resolve the issue. Once you have read, re-read, revised, and finalized your message, it is time to consider how to send it.

Finding the right medium

When considering the medium for your challenging conversation/ message, it is best to consider the other person’s communicative preferences. For example, if someone rarely uses technology, texting a challenging message would not be a wise idea. Also, if you know that the other person has a habit of collecting “the bad things in life”, a letter, e-mail or text may not be a wise option; since this piece of writing may be saved for that person’s later rumination. However, if you have an issue where you have had difficulty fully communicating your point of view, written correspondence may help.

A face-to-face conversation is the most intimate form of communication. A face-to-face interaction requires flexibility and the ability to listen objectively to the other person’s perspective. Scripting prior to a face-to-face interaction could help prepare you for the other person’s possible responses and prepare you on how to best respond to the other person. Prior scripting also helps in including positive statements about the other person as well as detaching your emotions from the position in question.

There are some considerations for a face-to-face interaction. If you are addressing an issue that would be emotionally charged for both parties, the face to face interaction may be more about your in the moment emotional experience versus the issues discussed. Also, if you are interacting with a person that has a tendency to be extremely defensive, your carefully crafted statements may be met with a barrage of defensive responses or anticipatory attacks.

When considering e-mail, text or a formal letter, think about how the other person may react. If you are considering a text, do you have enough lines of text to get the message across? Would the other person feel that a text is impersonal? Does the other person even use texting on their phone? When considering for a personal challenging conversation, NEVER blind carbon copy or copy another person to the e-mail. If the goal is for the other person to collaborate with you, they need to feel like an equal conversational partner. When considering e-mail, make sure that your message would not be considered appropriate if your recipient happened to forward your message to unintended parties. For a formal letter, make sure that the recipient would not consider a letter overly formal based on the situation. For example, a formal letter for a messy kitchen may be a little “over the top”.

There are many great resources for the topic of challenging conversations. I have attended great presentations by Greg Abels, Nick Martin, and Ernie Mendez. The strategies listed above are just a starting point.

The next time you find yourself drifting towards a challenging conversation with your spouse, remember to; state the positives about that person and your relationship, talk about the issues as facts, own your emotional responses and tell them again about the positives about them and your relationship.


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