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· We have to talk.
Should this really be an imperfect phrase? You could argue that it’s a rather benign phrase, and if you look at the meaning of it, or even the presuppositions, it’s not the same as the other phrases in this book.
Yet, it might be a problem. Not only do words and phrases have a literal meaning (called a denotative meaning), but they also have a connotative meaning. The connotation of a phrase is something the listener attaches to the phrase, an emotional reaction. It comes from the listener’s PAST experience with the word or phrase.
That leads us to the problem. For whatever reason, most people’s associations with this phrase are negative, partly because of the way it’s portrayed in media. In case you don’t know, the phrase “We have to talk”, has come to mean that one person wants to give the other bad news about the relationship, often initiating a break up.
When you use this phrase, between the time that you use it, and the time that you actually “talk”, you’ll have placed the other person in a state of high anxiety. That’s cruel particularly if the talk doesn’t happen for hours or days. It does make for a calm, rational discussion. This phrase primes people for bad news. And fighting.
Make It Better:
If you DO have bad news to deliver about the relationship, don’t inform the person it’s coming, then let them hang until the “talk”. Do it all at once, or keep your mouth shut until there’s an opportunity to converse I more depth.
If you have neutral or good news to share, don’t use this phrase, or at least indicate it’s good news.
· John, we have to talk about how we’re going to spend the ten million dollars we won in the lottery.
· Marie, can we talk about how we can increase the amount of money we’re saving for our holiday?
And if it really IS bad news? A break-up?
There’s no easy way. Just don’t let the person hang in limbo. Have the ONE conversation, and complete it. Don’t say on the phone in the morning: “We have to talk”, and then wait until night time to have the talk. That IS cruel. And it’s going to heighten YOUR anxiety until the conversation is completed.