It’s the questions that are important, not the answers

by Dian Reid-Jancic· Follow Dian on

The scary thing. A situation we don’t want to be in but we know is inevitable. We procrastinate because we just know it’s going to be awful. No way getting around it. Except …

We try to prepare for the moment. Perhaps an exercise in listing every scenario we can think of that might come up. And then our response to that scenario. Still seems daunting. Except …

List five scenarios. Then a response to each of those scenarios. Still seems out of the realm of doable. Well if this is the case, then perhaps you’re more interested in excuses than progress. In which case, come back when you’ve prioritized progress over procrastination.

If we can get the proverbial ball moving, then we create opportunities for ourselves to be well prepared for whatever will actually happen. Now I don’t know what the percentages of coming up with things that happen vs. Not coming up with what actually happens are, but personal experience in this practice has proven that I will rarely come up with the exact scenario to prepare for. The scenarios I do prepare for, however, will then prepare me for what I couldn’t have predicted.

I recall planning my coming out to my father, Mr. Former-Liberal-Turned-Right-Wing-Christian-Evangelical. 

The scenarios:

  • He’s going to be shocked
  • He’s going to hate me
  • He’s going to disown me
  • He’s going to yell at me
  • He’s going to stop visiting me every Sunday

My planned responses:

  • Something about looking at the signs that had been there since I was 8
  • Something about Jesus preaching love over hate
  • Something about hurting, but me being my own woman regardless
  • Something about asking him to leave before we say things we’ll regret
  • Something about being hurt and missing our time together

The reality of the conversation was that none of those things happened, specifically. He told me he’d “wondered about the nature” of my relationship with my then-girlfriend, but didn’t want to think “that” of me. He worried about not seeing me in the afterlife. He knew I was a good person and he still loved me.

While I wasn’t prepared with the specific responses to his reactions to my coming out, because of the preparation I’d done, I was prepared to have a conversation around whatever his reactions were. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to keep that conversation alive and turn it into an ongoing conversation, but that’s a story for another time. For the space here, we’re looking at getting started. First get started, then worry about planning for what comes next, or at least how you want to prepare for whatever lies ahead. If I had it to do over again I would add in the following questions before writing down any responses to the scenarios I’d come up with:

  • What do you want to give to this conversation?
  • What do you want to get out of this conversation?
  • How do you want this conversation to honor your relationship with your father?
  • How do you see this conversation evolving over the next 6 months or year?

This is just a start.

If you’re getting ready for a conversation that involves potentially intense feelings on either your part or the part of your audience, prepare yourself for all the scenarios you can think of. What will be your response if your audience is shocked? If your audience is nonchalantly totally okay? Is defensive or combative? Is loving and embracing? Is cold and distant?

And let’s not just think about how you would react, let’s think about how you want to react. Use the questions above to find out what you’re willing to both give and get out of the conversation. Then look within for your ideal reactions for each scenario. And to get to that, we need to think about your values and who you want to be in this life. What are your top 3 personal values? If your top 3 values are compassion, relationships, and authenticity, (mine are) then use those values to form your ideal reactions to each situation.

If your audience is shocked.
I understand you’re shocked, and this may feel like it’s coming out of left field, but this is who I am and it’s important me to be who I am. Our relationship is important to me, and I want you to take all the time you need with this information and ask me any questions you want to. We can sit right here or go for a walk or come back to it after going for a run, but it’s important that we talk about this.

If your audience is nonchalantly okay.
I just want to check in with you and make sure you’re as okay as you seem about this. I know this may change some aspects of our relationship, but I don’t want it to change the core of it. Ask me anything you want, even if it comes up later. I don’t want this to be something we talk about only once or feel like we have to talk about it all the time.

If your audience is defensive or combative.
It seems like this news is tough for you to digest right now and I don’t want either of us to say things we don’t mean, and I don’t want to put myself if a position to take abuse from you or dish it back to you. Let’s take a break from this conversation and revisit it once we’ve had a chance to take it in. I love you and I know you love me, and I don’t want this to destroy our relationship. I’ll check in with you in __ days.

If your audience  is loving and embracing.
I had no idea how you would react, and as much as I hoped it would be in loving support, I’m so relieved that you’re responding this way. I love you and want you to know if you have any questions even after today, I hope we can keep an open dialogue because this relationship is important to me.

If your audience is cold and distant.
It seems like this news is tough for you to digest right now and I’m sensing you’re putting up a wall and disengaging from the conversation. Our relationship is really important to me, and I want to make sure we continue this conversation once you’ve had some time to digest and are ready to talk about it. Know that I’m open to any questions you have and that I love you.

These are just some starting points. Obviously these are some reactions I’ve thought through as how I might respond in these situations, and you are likely to use different words, even if you honor the same top 3 values and/or would have the same general response. I’m of the mindset that it’s usually easier to revise someone else’s words than create your own, so please feel free to use these words as a starting point and then make the responses your own.

Another thing to keep in mind is to be realistic about your initial response and how you feel you might actually respond before writing out your idea response. This will help you craft your ideal response, so you’re able to gradually move from what you would say to what you will say.

If your response to someone being cold and distant is to shut down or become defensive, own that. Be honest with yourself about your natural reaction and then decide if that’s the reaction you want to have or if you would like it to be different. If you’d like it to be different, what specifically would you change about it? What would help you make the leap from being defensive or shutting down to _______? If it’s difficult to think about what would help, think about those two things as separate islands and then build a bridge from one to the other. What’s on that bridge? What’s it made of? Who is helping you build the bridge? What’s the scenery from the bridge?

Asking yourself questions like these can be helpful to go from, “Well, fuck, I have no idea how to do that!” to the little steps that help you say, “Okay, I can start here and then see what I come up with next.”

It’s not that we need to figure out all the answers to all the questions, but really that we trust ourselves that the answers will come if we keep asking new questions. From that trust you will uncover the knowledge that already exists within.

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