If you have any kind of close relationship, you’ve almost certainly experienced needing to have a tough conversation. Maybe it’s about children, in-laws, or unmet expectations, but when concerns arise (and they do), you need to talk about them! But when emotions are high and there’s a lot at stake, things can quickly get derailed. Inspired by my research, personal experience, and my years as a clinician, I’ve developed an acronym that can be used as a tool to navigate these difficult discussions. It’s called “OSCAR.”
“OSCAR” stands for the following:
O- Observe the Situation
S- Sort out Thoughts and Feelings
C- Compassionately Communicate
A- Ask Questions
R- Request Directly
Let’s explore these steps a little more:
Observe the Situation
The first thing to do is to press pause on your own emotions, take a step back, and try to observe the situation as objectively as possible. Maybe you and your spouse are having financial problems. A clear perspective may be that you’re late on bills, going deeper into debt, and not saving enough. Try to consider all angles and all available information.
Sort Out Your Thoughts & Feelings
Next, take emotional inventory of your own experience. What are you feeling about what’s going on? What are you thinking? Too often, we collapse thoughts and feelings, but they are actually distinct, and the difference is important. Continuing with our previous example, you may be feeling scared, hurt, or shame, while you may be thinking that your partner doesn’t care, you won’t have enough money in retirement, or you’ll have other bad financial repercussions. It’s crucial to understand your own emotions and thoughts before you express them.
Now it’s time to talk. Communicate your experience (thoughts & feelings) in a way that’s assertive, but not aggressive. “I” statements can be a good tool; the structure, “I feel ______ because I think ______” can help, too (such, as “I feel scared because I think we are making a lot of financial mistakes in our marriage). Avoid blaming or name-calling-that never helps! If you find it to be difficult to communicate with compassion (and not with sarcasm or bitterness), you’re not alone. It’ s hard to get out of patterns in our relationships, but thankfully, with more experience and effort, you can improve.
Communication isn’t just about expressing yourself or getting things off your chest; it’s a two-way thing! Inquire about the other person’s experience-how does he/ she feel and think about the situation? By asking questions, you’ll get clarity about the other person’s perspective and also show that you genuinely want to understand a different point of view.
There are almost certainly things that you would like to see the other person do. It’s not helpful to be overly demanding, but neither is it helpful to be timid. Be clear in asking for what you want; don’t be passive-aggressive or beat around the bush! “I would really like us to do our monthly budget together,” or “please make sure you communicate with me about purchases over $50.” One of my favorite phrases to make requests is, “it would mean a lot to me if you would _____.” This is very direct but it’s also kind.
To learn more about healthy communication and relationships, learn about my book “The Assertiveness Guide For Women.”