In my dealings with solving conflict, one of the biggest roadblocks is simply “how do I start the conversation?”. A common way people start a conversation about a conflicted situation is by simply saying “We need to talk!”

I don’t know about women but I do know that nearly every guy in the history of mankind cringes when he hears those four little words “we need to talk”!  When I hear them, the first thing I want to do is run for my life. Early in my career, when I was a department store young men’s fashion buyer, occasionally I would have vendors say to me “you need to buy this product”. Every time I heard that line, whether I should be buying the product or not, my first thought was “I don’t need to do anything”. How come? Let’s think about it: what the vendor did was take away my right of choice. I considered it to be theft and automatically my brain triggered a primal instinct for survival. There is nothing collaborative about the statement “you need to…”

The same thing happens when someone says “we need to talk”.  The primal brain is hearing “this is NOT going to be a pleasant experience and I have no say in this whatsoever!”

Instead of stealing someone’s right to choose and causing an instinctual negative reaction, what would happen if you opened the conversation by giving someone a choice?

For instance, what if you started out by asking permission to talk? How about something like “may I be totally honest with you?” or “do you mind if I share with you something that’s been bothering me?” The receiving person’s primal brain thinks, “sure, why not? I don’t have to do any work; all I have to do is listen.” This is no big deal; I’m in! You have now given the other person a choice and they made it.