Photo of Jill and her husband walking along the road away from the camera. Title says "It takes two to make a-thing a right."
Published 10.20.2021

Written by Jill Mueller

Jill Mueller is a trainer, coach, and learning experience designer dedicated to helping people teams become high performing by being Thoughtfully Fit.

Sometimes I wonder how you put up with me. Then I remember that I put up with you.

I was ready to quit. My husband wasn’t.

It was just another training walk in preparation for our Challenge Walk MS. We had planned to walk twelve miles. After walking six in humid, hot weather, I was ready to Uber it home. But my husband, Jeremy, wasn’t ready to stop yet.

Regardless of how strong our relationships are, having different opinions is inevitable. Sometimes it’s about something significant like money, annoying habits, or in-laws.

And sometimes the conflict is about the insignificant. What to have for dinner. What color to paint the bathroom. Whether or not to walk another six miles.

These little issues might not mean much on their own, but the moment-to-moment interactions add up over time. If we’re not careful, ignoring the little issues can cause big problems in the relationship.

Regardless of how high (or low) stakes the conversation is, the three C’s—courage, compassion, and curiosity—can provide us the road map to get through the conflict unscathed.

Step 1: Let’s be honest

It all starts with courage and being honest about what you want. This includes being honest with the other person and yourself. Sometimes we think so much about what they want —or how they’re going to react—we don’t take the time to think about what we want (much less say it out loud).

I often say nothing in order to keep the peace, especially when it feels like it’s not a big deal. But that inevitably leads to silent resentment that I’m always giving in, even though I’m the one who’s not speaking up! (Surely I’m not the only wife who gets mad at their partner for not being able to read their mind, right?)

On this day, in particular, courage meant Jeremy and I both knew we were going to say something the other person wasn’t going to like. Thankfully, courage is only the first step and we have two more steps to help us work through the disagreement.

Step 2: Have heart

Nobody enjoys being in a conversation where it feels like they’re not being heard. When you’re talking, but not listening (or if you want to prevent the conversation from becoming a shouting match), that’s the time to dial up the compassion.

Without adding compassion to the mix, Jeremy and my conversation would’ve turned into a Mueller vs. Mueller battle of wills: both of us expressing what we want/need, but neither of us listening

Compassion is at the heart of what allows us to connect with others. We can work on increasing our compassion by committing to listening and acknowledging when things are feeling tense or difficult. Jeremy and I both wanted to do what was best for our training. We just had different opinions on what the best option was. It’s hard to demonstrate compassion when you just want to win.

Darcy shares how being “ready to shift” can improve your workplace communication.

You’ll need all the gears: Courage, Compassion, and Curiosity.


Darcy Luoma (00:21):
So today’s Thoughtfully for Thursday is brought to you from the mountain bike trails. And I wanted to share, there’s so many parallels from being physically fit to being thoughtfully fit. So I’m out riding today with my daughter, Jayden, and we’re talking about how crucial it is to shift and to shift often. And I know when I first started biking, my coach would tell me that. And I was like, “It’s too hard. I don’t know when to shift. I don’t know how to shift.” And the problem was my ride was not as efficient and I was more likely to get injured without shifting. But it takes skill and it takes practice to know how to shift and then when to shift because if you shift while you’re on a steep climb, your chances of your chain coming off your ring are very high.

Darcy Luoma (01:19):
And it’s interesting because last week I was talking to one of my coaching clients. I’ve been coaching him for about four months. I’m going to call him Joe. And he forwarded me an email and he said, “Darcy, oh, I did it again. How is it that I keep getting myself in these messes?” We’ve been talking about the three Cs of balanced conversations. So courage, compassion, and curiosity. And he forwarded me an email chain where one of his direct reports, I will call him Travis, emailed Joe a question and said, “Hey, just want to check in about this sourcing issue because they’re backlogged and we need it in order to get this shipment out.” And Joe, my client replied, and he replied in his view in a very, very direct manner, just telling Travis exactly what the answer was.

Darcy Luoma (02:20):
And then Travis came back. Now I was reading the email after the fact, and what I saw in Joe’s email was defensiveness and blaming. What Joe saw was he was being direct. But what I read was, well, I had told you before that this was going to happen. And if you would have looked at the backlog and he was really being very critical and very defensive. Now here’s where it took a turn, a twist that was very interesting. Travis, in his reply to Joe, said, “You know what, Joe, I don’t know what’s going on here, but I feel like you’re blaming me. You’re criticizing, you’re defensive. And I’m not going to play that game, because that could get us down this spiral and nowhere closer to the solution. So I don’t know what you need, but right now what I need is to have a conversation with you about how we fix this problem. And I’d appreciate if we could just start over. I didn’t mean to put you on the defensive or be blaming. I’m trying to figure this out.”

Darcy Luoma (03:21):
And so Joe had sent this to me. And what’s interesting is that when you are in conversation, you have to be shifting gears often. So when you’re biking, not only do you have to be present to know what gear you’re in, I was just sharing this with my daughter, Jayden, you have to look at ahead and anticipate what’s coming and shift before that big uphill. In the same way, when you’re in conversation with someone else, Joe recognized in that coaching moment that the gear he was in was defensive. And when he looked ahead, in hindsight, his reply was very critical and very blamey. And what he realized he was missing completely was the compassion and the curiosity because he needed to shift gears and he didn’t.

Darcy Luoma (04:08):
And what he said, what he realized is, what I should have said is, “Hey, Travis, I’m so glad you brought this to my attention. It is a pretty big problem. I know we talked about it and anticipated that it was coming. And I’m wondering what you’ve tried already and what supports you need from me.” Compassion and curiosity, instead of just going all-in on the courage, which is, I told you this was going to happen and I’m frustrated that you didn’t deal with it back then.

Darcy Luoma (04:34):
So the mosquitoes are getting us right now, so I’m going to wrap this up and just say that if you are in a conversation with somebody and you can see that it’s taken a turn. You can feel that you’re starting to get triggered. You can see that the other person’s body language is starting to shut down. Notice that, anticipate, and then shift gears. If you’re going hard and they’re starting to react, turn up the volume on compassion. One of my Thoughtfully Thursdays, I talked about the mixer board. You can keep the courage high, turn up the compassion. Or if you notice that they’re starting to shut down and get defensive, turn up the curiosity. Hey, I’m wondering if something I’m saying is upsetting you. That’s not my intention. What’s happening for you right now. Shift gears often.

Darcy Luoma (05:22):
All right, everybody, I hope that you are able to practice some of this, whether it’s out on the mountain bike or in your relationships. Thank you so much for joining me. I’m Darcy Luoma.


Step 3: Questions lead to the answer

It can be difficult to know how to navigate a conversation when you come to an impasse, and you can end up somewhere neither of you want to be—in a win-lose situation. That’s where curiosity and asking questions can help find the win-win.

I asked Jeremy, “What’s important for you about walking the last six miles?” And after explaining, he asked me, “What would make finishing our training easier for you?” Because of these questions, we were able to better understand each other. He made the point that we’d eventually have to do long distance training, so putting it off would only make it harder. I expressed that, since we started later in the day, I was feeling overheated and the thought of being in the sun for six more miles was too much. We were both right. Neither one of us was trying to convince the other person they were wrong or their point was invalid.

Different opinions in a conversation can be hard to navigate, but when we ask questions, we’re better equipped to genuinely understand one another and find a resolution everyone can be happy about.

There’s no place like home…

Jeremy and my win-win was continuing to walk but on a different route with more shade (that strategically went by a Culver’s where we could stop for a custard break!). I won’t pretend we find the win-win all the time. I don’t always have the courage to say what I really want. I don’t always have the compassion to listen the way I should. In some situations, I don’t have the curiosity to ask questions (and when I’m tired, I make more snarky or passive-aggressive comments).

That said, when I’m feeling frustrated in a conversation, I know that dialing up the courage, compassion, or curiosity can get us back on track. The hardest part is sometimes just remembering that I have access to the three C’s.

One-Minute Core Workout

Communicating with the three C’s (and breaking bad communication habits!) can be difficult at first. When you engage your core, finding Balance during tough conversations becomes easier. 

Pause. When you’re not feeling heard or you’re growing frustrated, take a moment to Pause and…

Think. Ask yourself thoughtful questions: What do we each need from this interaction? How can I dial up my courage, compassion, or curiosity? What is one step I can take to move us forward?

Act. Take that first step towards Balance. 

Every conversation provides us with the opportunity to practice Balanced communication. Starting with your loved ones on the low-stakes issues is a great place to start.

Take it one step at a time, and eventually hard conversations will be a walk in the park (hopefully with a pit stop at Culver’s!).

Thoughtfully Fit One-Minute Workout inside the Thoughtfully Fit Wheel


Glennon Doyle’s, We Can Do Hard Things podcast focuses on a specific topic for each episode, and one of my favorites explores overwhelm. Specifically, Glennon and her sister, Amanda, discuss “the ticker.” If you tell your spouse, “Let me know what I can do to help,” and then go sit on the porch swing until you’re given directions, chances are you don’t have the ticker. You likely have the ticker if you’re constantly keeping track of every Target run, doctor visit, soccer practice that’s needed to keep your household running. So what to do? Time to use the three C’s to have some Balanced conversations!

P.S. Complete this 2-minute quiz and be entered to win one of TEN copies of Thoughtfully Fit! We all have hurdles that get in our way. But the most successful people know that identifying their biggest hurdle is the first step to clearing it. Take this quiz—developed by Darcy after coaching thousands of people—to help you identify YOUR biggest hurdle. Are you ready to find out?

Photo of Glennon Doyle on the thumbnail for her "We Can Do Hard Things with Glennon Doyle" podcast.