Opposing opinions. Strong emotions. High stakes.
Think back to the last time you had a conversation that contained all three elements.
Combing through my own personal annals of history, I recall an incident where these elements collided to craft my own potential recipe for disaster or opportunity.
(I should interject here that the choice between disaster and opportunity was mine every step of the way.)
I’d love to say I handled the situation with finesse, communicated with confidence, and gracefully struck a compromise that left both parties in post-conversational bliss.
‘Fraid not. Instead, a current of adrenaline the width of the Mississippi surged through my veins. Heart thumping in my ears, I bowed down and surrendered control to my frustration and anger. Given free reign, my emotions took over like gangbusters and shot the place full of holes. In the end, the other party used a couple of colorful expletives and hung up on me. The conversation continued by text message from there, spiraling downhill in a blaze of NON-glory.
Baddddddddddddd. Very bad. Unproductive. Damaging. The relationship is still recovering from it.
A CRUCIAL CONVERSATION gone wrong.
We have all kinds of conversations every day. Where is the line between important and crucial? A crucial conversation is one that can hugely affect the quality of our lives. A crucial conversation is a game changer.
The irony is that, faced with a crucial conversation, our bodies often work against us. On a physiological level, our brains respond to an incoming threat by directing our adrenal glands to dump adrenaline into our veins. The bright side is that the adrenaline increases blood flow to our extremities in case we need to fight or flee. The down side is that this means flow is diverted away from our other areas, like the ones in charge of our critical reasoning.
Now I know what happened to my finesse. It was in my shoe!
As human beings, we have basic needs. When we sense a threat to those needs, our defensive mechanisms kick in. In a crucial conversation, the stakes are high. The secret to making a crucial conversation successful is moving beyond those defenses to share real meaning with another person and engage in true communication. How do we do that?
1. Take a deep breath. Share facts and observations first. When we begin with the facts, we help the other person to see how another rational person might see the situation.
2. Maintain focus on your goals for the relationship. Keep in mind what kind of relationship you want and what kind you want for the other party.
3. Watch for warning signs that trouble is building. Silence and violence are major indicators that safety is at risk. We each respond differently to crisis, some with silence, others with violence (striking out in word or action). To further complicate the situation, we may toggle between the two. We may brood in silence then erupt like St. Helens when we can’t take it anymore.
4. Make it safe for the other party to communicate. Try to see things from both sides. Human beings become defensive when they are unsure about motives. Be clear about what you are trying to accomplish, and LISTEN. REALLY listen. People can always tell the difference.
Every day, crucial conversations change our lives. Be on the alert, and when you find yourself in need of finesse, pause to gather your thoughts before proceeding. Remember to listen first. Share meaning by communicating about your motives. Keep your eyes on the goal. Watch for signs of trouble. Make it safe for both parties to open the channels of communication.
Devote your energy to turning a crucial conversation into a win-win.
And, when all else fails, don’t forget to check your shoe.
Lyna Landis is the manager of marketing and communications of Utilities District of Western Indiana REMC.