How to Start a Difficult Conversation Like Lt. Columbo

A Simple Way to Instantly Lower Your Spouse's Defenses

You might remember the Lieutenant Columbo TV series, with Columbo played by Peter Falk? For the uninitiated, Lt. Columbo was that trenchcoat-wearing, cigar-smoking television detective of the Los Angeles Police Homicide Bureau. The show ran off and on from 1971 to 2003.

How to Make Your Spouse Listen to You

Columbo was an exceptionally successful detective. He used his humble ways and ingenuous demeanor to put people at ease, allowing them to open up and tell him things they otherwise wouldn’t. Here’s how this relates to your conversations with your spouse.

In my previous post I covered the 5 tips to approaching your spouse when you need to voice your discontent. Why is that important? Well, because productive conversations can only happen when both parties feel safe and connected.

If you start out too aggressively, the other person won’t feel safe. No matter what you say from there on, they will be on guard, making it difficult for them to really listen. It’s human nature. We’re all like that.

How to Diffuse Tension Right Away

If you have a history of starting conversations off on the wrong foot, you may want to try using the Lt. Columbo’s humble disclaimers to diffuse the tension.

The humble disclaimers are harmless little openers that naturally invite insight and cooperation instead of opposition. They are a low-key way to soften your opening, particularly if you have an uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach before even starting to talk.

Pay attention to a couple of Columbo’s openings:

  • “It’s probably just me, but …”
  • “I’m probably thinking about this all wrong, but …”
  • “You’ve probably thought about this already, but …”
  • “I wish I knew, but I just don’t know how to handle this …”
  • “I don’t know exactly how to say this, and I hope you’ll help me, but …”
  • “I’m not sure if it’s okay me bringing this up, but …”
  • “I hope you’ll forgive me for not knowing quite how to say this, but …”
The power of humble disclaimers is that by using them, you’re accepting the possibility that the things said are only your perception of things. You are effectively saying, “I might be wrong, and I am ready to listen to your point as well.” It’s showing respect—not diminishing your point to seem more likeable. And it surely isn’t about you acting submissive or anything like that.

This way, you are simply making it easy for your spouse (or any other human being, for that matter) to listen and hear what you have to say.

I guess that is what you wanted, right?

Your Turn

Think about the last time you complained to your spouse, and how you started the conversation. Think of how you would do it now. Do you think there would be a difference in how your complaint was received by your spouse, and what results would you achieve?

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