I'm curious? Is there someone you know you want to have a talk with and then don't? Or,
maybe you've tried and you felt it went badly. Or maybe you fear that talking will only make the situation worse. And still you feel stuck, and you'd like to free up that stuck energy for more useful purposes.
I'm going to share with you a brief synopsis of what I feel are best practice strategies: a checklist of action items to think about before going into the conversation; some useful concepts to practice during the conversation and some tips and suggestions to help you stay focused and flowing in general, including possible conversation openings.
I'm guessing you will notice one key theme throughout; you have more power than you think
Working on Yourself & How To Prepare for the Conversation
Before going into the conversation, take some time to ask yourself some questions:
- What is your purpose for having the conversation? What do you hope to accomplish? What would be an ideal outcome? Please watch for hidden purposes. You may feel you have honorable goals, like educating an employee or increasing connection with your partner, only to notice that your language is excessively critical or condescending. You feel you want to support, and you end up punishing. Some purposes are more useful than others. Work on yourself so that when you enter the conversation it is with a supportive purpose.
What assumptions are you making about this person's intentions? You may feel intimidated, belittled, ignored, disrespected, or marginalized, but please be cautious about assuming that this was the speaker's intention. Impact does not necessarily equal intent.
- What "buttons" of yours are being pushed? Are you more emotional than the situation warrants? Take a look at your "backstory". What personal history is being triggered? You may still want to have the conversation; however you will go into it with a knowing that some of the heightened emotional state has to do with you.
- How is your attitude toward the conversation influencing your perception of it? If you feel this is going to be horribly difficult, it most likely will be. If you truly believe that whatever happens, some good will come of it, that will most likely be true. Try to adjust your attitude for maximum effectiveness.
- Who is the opponent? What might he/she be thinking about this situation? Is he/she aware that there is a problem? If so, how do you feel he/she perceives it? What are his/her needs and/or fears? What solution do you think he/she would suggest? Begin to reframe the opponent as partner.
- What are your needs and fears? Are there any common concerns? Could there be?
- How have you contributed to the problem?
Steps to a Successful Outcome
The majority of the work in any conflict conversation is work you do on yourself. No matter
how well the conversation begins, you must stay in charge of yourself, your purpose and your emotional energy. Breathe, center, and continue to notice when you become off center-and choose to return again. This is truly where your power lies. By choosing the calm, centered state, you will help your opponent/partner to be more centered, too. Centering is not a step; centering is how you are "BEing" as you take the steps.
Cultivate an attitude of discovery and curiosity. Pretend you don't know anything (you truly don't), and try to learn as much as possible about your opponent/partner and his/her point of view. Pretend you are entertaining a visitor from another planet, and find out how things look on that planet. If your partner really was from another planet, I'm guessing you would be watching his/her body language and listening for unspoken energy as well. Do that here. What does he/she really want? Let your partner talk until he/she is finished. Do not interrupt except to acknowledge. Whatever you hear, don't take it personally. It is not really about you. Try to learn as much as you can in this phase of the conversation. You will get your turn, please don't feel a need to rush things.
Acknowledgment means showing that you have heard and understood. Try to understand the other person so well that you could make his/her argument for him/her. Then do it. Explain back to him what you think you heard him/her share with you. Guess at his/her hopes and honor that position.
Acknowledge whatever you can, including your own defensiveness if it comes up. It's fine; it just is. You can decide later how to address it.
Acknowledgment can be difficult when we associate it with agreement. Keep them separate. Saying, "this sounds really important to you," doesn't mean, "I'm going to go along with your decision".
When you sense your partner has expressed all his energy on the topic, it's your turn. What can you see from your perspective that he's missed? Help clarify your position without minimizing their perspective.
Now you're ready to begin building solutions. Brainstorming and continued inquiry are useful here. Ask your partner what he thinks might work. Whatever he says, find something you like and build on it. If the conversation becomes adversarial, go back to inquiry. Asking for the other's point of view usually creates safety and encourages him to engage. If you've been successful in centering, adjusting your attitude, and engaging with inquiry and useful purpose, building sustainable solutions will be easy.
Now you are ready to begin building solutions. Brainstorming and continued inquiry are useful tools here. Ask your partner what he/she thinks might work. Whatever he/she says, find something you like and build on it. If the conversation becomes adversarial, go back to inquiry. Asking for the other's point of view usually creates safety and encourages him/her to engage. If you have been successful in centering, adjusting your attitude, and engaging with inquiry and useful purpose, building sustainable solutions will be easy.
Practice, Practice, Practice
The art of conversation is like any art-with continued practice you will acquire skill and ease.
Below are some additional tips and suggestions:
- A successful outcome will depend on two things: how you are and what you say. How you are (centered, supportive, curious, problem-solving) will greatly influence what you say.
- Acknowledge emotional energy-yours and your partner's-and direct it toward a useful purpose.
- Know and return to your purpose at difficult moments.
- Don't take verbal attacks personally. Help your opponent/partner come back to center.
- Don't assume your opponent/partner can see things from your point of view.
- Practice the conversation with a friend before holding the real one.
- Mentally practice the conversation. See various possibilities and visualize yourself handling them with ease. Envision the outcome you are hoping for.
Now....How Do I Begin?
In my workshops and retreats , a common question is "How do I begin the conversation"? Below I have listed a few conversation openers I've picked up over the years-and used many times!
- I have something I'd like to discuss with you that I think will help us work together more effectively.
- I'd like to talk about ____________ with you, but first I'd like to get your point of view.
- I need your help with what just happened. Do you have a few minutes to talk?
- I need your help with something. Can we talk about it (soon)? If the person says, "Sure, let me get back to you," follow up with him.
- I think we have different perceptions about _____________________. I'd like to hear your thinking on this.
- I'd like to talk about ___________________. I think we may have different ideas about how to _____________________.
- I'd like to see if we might reach a better understanding about ___________. I really want to hear your feelings about this and share my perspective as well.
Have fun practicing!
Would love to hear your experiences...
Wishing you Happy Conversations
Sending Much Love to you, Joanie