At the beginning of the New Year I wrote a post about Communication and whether or not it might be part of your New Year’s resolutions. I started off a small series on communication that will review some of the tips and tricks for successful empathy, listening and speaking. I will continue to base my writing in a book called, Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss what Matters Most by three authors: Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen of the Harvard Negotiation Project.
In this blog post, I will discuss a few issues that can come up when we are trying to sort through the facts – the “what happened” part of the difficult conversation. The authors point out that there are three common pitfalls in our thinking about the “facts” of the conversation. Here they are:
- The Truth Assumption – We often begin to sort out the facts with the assumption that I am “right” about what happened. I know that I am right or I know what happened and I am sure of it – just as I know and am sure of other truths. The big problem with using this approach to the conversation is that difficult conversations are not usually about the “facts” but about perceptions, interpretations and values. Unless we are able to shift our awareness into what else is happening – below the surface of the “facts” then we most likely won’t make much progress. The authors but it this way: “[Difficult conversations] are not about what is true, they are about what is important.”
- The Intention Invention – This pitfall is really about what we believe is going on in the other person. The authors ask a few questions to illustrate the differences in intention can be present in the same behaviors or actions:
- Did you yell at my to hurt my feelings or merely to emphasize your point?
- Did you throw my cigarettes out because you are trying to control my behavior or because you want to help me to live up to my commitment to quit?
Depending on how we answer these questions in our head could bring about very distinct outcomes in the conversation. If I believe that someone did something to hurt me and for no other reason then it may be hard to stay in a constructive conversation. Rarely do we know all of the intentions of other people and keeping this in mind can keep us active and open in the conversation.
- The Blame Frame – This one is quite simple. If I employ all of my energy in trying to figure out who is to blame for the “mess” that we are all in then defenses will be up on all sides. If I can figure that out then I may feel justified in yelling, exiting the conversation or in holding on to my resentment, etc. None of us like to be accused of things and usually when we are, we will use quite a bit of energy to try to prove that we are not guilty. The authors point out that blame and fault usually produces disagreement, denial and little learning. Here it is important to ask questions like: What kept me/us from seeing that this mess was about to occur? How could I/we have prevented it? Perhaps we each had some way of contributing to the problem in how we acted and we all have something to learn from what happened.
Difficult conversations are not fun and I don’t pretend to suggest that by becoming more mindful that they will become easy or enjoyable. I do believe and have seen many times that when difficult conversations are handled in skillful ways, that the outcomes can actually deepen relationships.
Please let us at Life Skills Resource Group know if we can be of service to your relationships or in facilitating difficult conversations. We would be honored to support you in the next steps!