Why do people choose to say, “We need to talk” at the exact moment the two of you cannot talk? Well, it’s probably for a really good reason, such as, they’re heading in to a meeting and want to make sure you don’t leave for the day before you chat. Or, your spouse has something he is really excited to talk about but just can’t elaborate any more at the moment, or your friend has two kids in the tub but is going to get back to you as soon as their tucked in.
Whatever the case, if you are like me, you spend that time in between the “We need to talk” and the actual talk fretting about what you’ve done wrong. About what needs to be fixed. You might even start guessing. “So, when he said he wasn’t irritated that I went to the beach instead of helping in the garden, he wasn’t telling the truth and has been stewing about it all this time!” and you start to stew as well, wasting emotional energy and distracting yourself from what you should be doing.
By the time “the talk” arrives, you have mentally prepared yourself for divorce, job loss, listening to your friend tell you off, etc. Then, when it comes down to it, you find out they heard about this fantastic concert coming to town and wanted to make sure they didn’t forget to mention it to you in plenty of time to get the best seats. Argh!
Sometimes I’ve even said to people these people, “You know, when people say that, I tend to be anxious about it until we talk. Any chance you could give me a five second summary of the topic?” Usually they’ll laugh (as if it never occurred to them that what they said might be causing any emotional turmoil) and put my mind at ease.
It’s particularly stressful when a client does this. Especially if you haven’t spoken in a while. Going in to a meeting blind is never in anyone’s best interests, so if you get a “we need to talk” email or message, you could try responding with, “Absolutely – I would love to talk! It will help me respond more helpfully and efficiently if you give me just a little hint as to what is on your mind.” Then schedule it. Now you can prepare and look forward to the call rather than losing sleep over it. You could even try the old, “I’ll never sleep with that on my mind!” line. What’s the worst that could happen? Give it a try!
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