When I was twenty-four years old, my boyfriend (now husband) and I faced an important moment in our relationship.
We worked together, and he was being relocated from St. Louis to Chicago. We weren’t married, but the company offered domestic partner relocation benefits.
(Pretty nice, right?)
Before we made any decisions, we had a whole bunch of awkward questions to answer.
- Did we want to continue living together?
- Did I want to move for his job?
- If we were willing to be domestic partners, why not get married?
My boyfriend was older and had an established career. I did not. He was successful and doing very well at work. I was just starting out and still harbored dreams of attending graduate school. I knew this decision would affect the rest of my life. It was tough to say yes without the promise of marriage.
So we had an awkward but crucial conversation about our future together. Neither one of us is very good with confrontation, so my boyfriend used his “engineering brain” and approached this problem in the most straightforward and logical way possible: he gave me a list of ten things I needed to change about myself in order for our relationship to succeed.
Just so you know, my husband says the list had five things on it. Memories are so unreliable. What’s the difference between five things or ten things? Not much. And I won’t lie. I was pretty sad. I just kept saying to myself—Ten things! Ten things! There are ten things wrong with me!
Eventually, I stopped crying. I knew Ken adored me and wanted our relationship to succeed. His list wasn’t mean, either. He wrote things like, “I want you to manage your money better.”
(He’s still saying that!)
And, beyond crying, I didn’t want to freak out and react to his list. Quite honestly, he put “be less reactive” on the list of things he wanted from me.
So I took a different approach. I put aside my ego and made a list of ten things that I loved about him. I wanted to show him that, when the stakes are high and the conversations are tough, I would always offer kindness and love.
Now, I am not saying you need to love somebody at work or in your everyday life to have a productive and positive crucial conversation. You don’t need to love your neighbor to tell him to get off your lawn. But, as I think about it, why not? Feedback, even in the most professional setting, should always be delivered with respect, compassion and empathy.
That’s sorta love.
And feedback—for the sake of sharing your feelings and for the opportunity to be heard by your colleagues and team members—is entirely pointless and selfish. Whether it’s at work or in your personal life, the only way to have a crucial conversation is to begin with love.
Otherwise, why the hell bother?