difficult conversations: how to discuss what matters most pdf
I don’t want to change their minds. You and I obviously have different understandings of what Dad intended, and of what’s fair to each of us. He might say, “Rosario, I really am sorry. BF637.C45S78 1999 158.2—dc21 98–33346 Set in Electra Designed by Francesca Belanger Making or distributing electronic copies of this book constitutes copyright infringement and could subject the infringer to criminal and civil liability. This Conflict Is Not Who I Am. . We’ll examine several common but significant expression errors, ways to avoid them, and methods for expressing yourself well. . The disagreement seems at the heart of what is going wrong between us. I know I need the feedback, but it’s something for both of us to be aware of as we work through these memos.” You’ll be astounded how often difficult conversations are wrapped up in both people reacting to what the conversation seems to be saying about them. I wonder if that’s something we could talk about?” Jason can offer that without sacrificing his own views (soon enough, he’ll ask about Jill’s story, and describe his own), and Jill can sign on without defensiveness. We don’t need to agree. Their advice is relatively similar — ask questions, paraphrase back what the other person has said, acknowledge their view, sit attentively and look them in the 168 Create a Learning Conversation eye — all good advice. It drives me crazy, because he acts like his ideas are better than anyone else’s, even when he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” They’re irrational. What am I right about? . Instead, invite an exploration of whether a raise is fair, whether it makes sense. I can see why that would be upsetting. And when you choose to engage, you’ll slowly get better at staying out of your own way — spotting and side-stepping the ways you used to trip yourself up. . ISBN 0-670-88339-5 (hc.) . I am right that the contractor overcharged me. Now What? • Explore your emotional footprint, and the bundle of emotions you experience. Instead, you’ll both be tossing in your favorite items. You’re actually off to a good start. I guess I’m wondering how to give you the benefit of my judgment before the decision is made. Holding onto the issues inside the relationship becomes too painful or too exhausting, so you move on. I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself. Knowing that it’s their choice underscores your caring intent and frees them to think about the question. We’ll return to this example in the section below on negotiating with your feelings. They know their hopes, dreams, and fears; we don’t. Understanding how we distort others’ intentions, making difficult conversations even more difficult, is crucial to untangling what happened between us. For example, the statement “You are so damn undependable!” is a judgment about the other person’s character. I’m sick of you playing the victim all the time, sick of your petty fears and constant complaining! Jack: Well, I don’t want to confuse two issues. I may have to dig a bit to understand my feelings. HOW The First Mistake: Our Assumptions About Intentions Are Often Wrong Exploring “Lori’s mistake” requires us to understand how our minds work when devising stories about what others intend, and to learn to recognize the set of questionable assumptions upon which these stories are built. “I know Anger I love him,” she said. Her internal voice was saying, “I know what this is all about,” and that was the end of her curiosity. We conduct an internal debate over whether this means we are competent or incompetent, a good person or bad, worthy of love or unlovable. Of course, you may not be ready or able to engage or reengage fully in a difficult situation or relationship. The other person becomes hurt or angry, we feel defensive, our preparation goes out the window, and we wonder why we thought having this conversation was a good idea in the first place. He tuned his mother out or tried to change the subject. If necessary, say what’s still unclear or inconsistent to you, and ask for clarification: “Okay, so your view is that Kate made the sale because she could offer a reduced price on the service contract. Finally, sick of feeling attacked each time she presented the budget numbers, she decided to confront the board member, a woman named Sylvie. By suggesting that Brad felt more than just anger, Brad’s friend offered him a powerful insight. People who know how to handle children see that he’s a very sweet boy.” By leaving their story out, we implicitly set up a trade-off between their version of events and our version, between our feelings and theirs. Orators Need Not Apply Expressing yourself well in a difficult conversation has nothing to do with how big your vocabulary is or how eloquent or quick-witted you are. Speak for Yourself with Clarity and Power 197 This is not an argument that there is no truth, or that all opinions are equally valid. Thelma’s rule is “It is unprofessional and inconsiderate to be late.” Ollie’s rule is “It is unprofessional to obsess about small things so much that you can’t focus on what’s important.” Because 36 The “What Happened?” Conversation Thelma and Ollie both interpret the situation through the lens of their own implicit rule, they each see the other person as acting inappropriately. First, you need to explain why you are walking away. A Few Thoughts If you’re skeptical, that’s understandable. ISBN 0-670-88339-5 (hc.) . Disappointment, shame, confusion? Consider what happened between Rita and Isaiah. Wow. We can tease each other. . . I agree it’s not perfect, but the chart is clearly labeled. So naming the dynamic is probably best thought of as something to try when nothing else has worked. The “and” in this case is connecting two aspects of what you think or feel. . You reframe: I’m sure I’ve contributed to the problem; I think we both have. I’m not saying it’s not. When do I get to give my side of the story? Map the Contribution System 59 We’re Caught in Blame’s Web Blame is a prominent issue in many difficult conversations. Randy, who is white, believes that the company they work for has a generally good record on minority recruitment and promotion. A related and often destructive way to communicate through subtext is what Professor Chris Argyris of Harvard Business School has called easing in. On the face of it, these would seem to be good strategies. What’s more, feelings are very good at disguising themselves. I’m not saying there’s a right or wrong. 112 An Identity Quake Can Knock Us Off Balance 113 There’s No Quick Fix 113 Vulnerable Identities: The All-or-Nothing Syndrome 114 Denial 114 Exaggeration 115 We Let Their Feedback Define Who We Are Ground Your Identity 115 116 Step One: Become Aware of Your Identity Issues 116 Step Two: Complexify Your Identity (Adopt the And Stance) 118 Three Things to Accept About Yourself 119 1. 96 The Feelings Conversation Don’t Let Hidden Feelings Block Other Emotions. Like dealing with feelings, grappling with the Identity Conversation gets easier with the development of certain skills. Unexpressed feelings can block the ability to listen. He told some of the teams they would be negotiating to buy the company, and others that they would be selling the company. After all, what if the other person dismisses our feelings or responds without real understanding? 1. . Not so powerless. (Or it’s all my fault.) They aren’t sure whether you really want to hear them. He would prefer not to hurt his son. Jack: Listen, Michael, say what you will, but the problem on that financial brochure was that after all the work I did, you treated me badly, and you know it! I feel badly about how it’s turned out, but I do think it’s the right decision, and overall I don’t think it’s unfair. It would actually make me feel better. . In this case, you may be right and your friend may be wrong, but merely being right doesn’t do you much good. . Such relationships are both more comfortable (it’s more relaxing to be yourself) and nourishing to the soul (“My boss knows some of my vulnerabilities and still thinks I’m okay”). I can imagine there will be times when you have a certain view, and then we talk about it, and you change your mind. If we could, many difficult conversations would simply vanish. Because people’s intentions, like so much else in difficult conversations, are complex. With one slip, your assistant, who packs your briefcase, has undermined weeks of hard work. It requires you to look hard at yourself, and sometimes to change and grow. “Always” and “never” also make it harder — rather than easier — for the other person to consider changing their behavior. If this doesn’t work, and sometimes it won’t, you may first have to express your internal voice before trying to listen to the other person. And sometimes I feel angry, because it makes me think you don’t care about what’s going on with me. Ostensibly the subject is money, but what’s really making you sweat is that your self-image is on the line. you'll learn how to: The file will be sent to your email address. 68 The “What Happened?” Conversation Misconception #1: I Should Focus Only on My Contribution Advice that you should search for joint contribution to a problem is sometimes heard as “You should overlook the other person’s contribution and focus on your own.” This is a mistake. The Feelings Conversation: What Should We Do with Our Emotions? . One of your store managers deserves a warning or even to be fired. In many situations, we are blinded to the complexity of our feelings by one strong feeling that trumps all the others. In particular, ask how they see it differently. If you’re trying to intimidate me into changing my mind, it won’t work. . Michael: Well, what’s your answer to that question? In more extreme cases, it can feel earth-shattering. Who gets to be righteously indignant? The two hardest (and most important) communication tasks in difficult conversations are expressing feelings and listening. I am right that you are unable to mentor younger colleagues. These are the skills we all can use to make a marriage more enjoyable and durable and to make relations between parents and teenagers something far better than a war zone. There is no in-between. Screw up!? Several times now, when I’ve said the things that are important to me, you’ve gotten very angry to the point where I Create a Learning Conversation 210 feel threatened. Then I started to regret some of the things I’d said, and realized that I’d just made the situation worse by feeding the antagonism between us. . Greta: I know it’s hard. . . Be Open to Reflecting on the Complexity of Your Intentions. Don’t Exaggerate with “Always” and “Never”: Give Them Room to Change In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to express frustration through a bit of exaggeration: “Why do you always criticize my clothes?” “You never give one word of appreciation or encouragement. If you are able to share feelings with skill, you can avoid many of the potential costs associated with expressing feelings and even reap some unexpected benefits. Sometimes a conversation is simply not worth the time, or not even possible. Our Identity Conversation tells us loud and clear that asking for help is not okay — that it is shameful or weak and creates burdens on others. . There were awkward moments, and some members of his family wondered why he was acting differently. Better to say how you feel. Whenever you feel overwhelmed or unsure how to proceed, remember that it is always a good time to listen. I’m sorry, okay? Both the challenge and the spice of relationships is in people’s differences. “I wonder whether it’s possible to . When you finally raise the issue, you learn that they feel the dog’s barking is important for security reasons, and that the reason he’s left outside at night is that they fear he might accidentally hurt the new baby (whom he adores). It’s understandable that you’d want the kids to feel that the divorce won’t be all that bad, or to persuade your employee that being fired is really an opportunity for her to find a better fit for her skills. . You feel demotivated by this state of affairs, figuring that nothing you do will change your boss’s mind. You Will Make Mistakes 119 2. But there is also likely to be an element of self-protection in this urge: “I just hope they don’t cry or get angry or withdraw or argue,” you think, in part because of how that would make you feel about yourself: “Maybe I’m a rotten dad, as well as a lousy husband.” Trying to control their reaction can seem like a way to avoid the difficult work of accepting your contribution to what’s happening — with the resulting painful impact on your identity. When a coworker criticizes your work in front of department 48 The “What Happened?” Conversation colleagues, she is trying to put you down. What advice can the you of thirty years from now give to the you that is facing the pain? The worse our view of the other person’s character, the easier it is to justify avoiding them or saying nasty things behind their back. When a customer writes “I don’t suppose you’ve gotten to my order yet . In teaching this exercise with us, Dick, Rick, Sallyann Roth, Jody Scheier, and their associates from the Family Institute have taught us about family dynamics, influence, common reasons people get “stuck,” and how to care for people in pain. We Each Make Sense in Our Story of What Happened We don’t see ourselves as the problem because, in fact, we aren’t. At times, to be able to listen they’ll need first to speak. Thinking of your future self looking back can also give you some direction. And thus begins a cycle of accusation. That’s what you get when you talk about your feelings with someone like Roz. . . Those factors made the decision to transfer you very difficult for me. They are more likely to change if they think we understand them and if they feel heard and respected. This was your fault!” we should recognize that as an important clue that we are sitting on unexpressed emotions. See whether that person doesn’t become a better listener after all. Our work on listening and the power of authenticity was influenced by Carl Rogers, Sheila Reindl, and Suzanne Repetto. Toby’s reactions to their disagreements threaten this carefully nurtured space. ISBN 0 7865 1102 8 (MSReader) ISBN 0 7865 1103 6 (Adobe Reader) 1. Confronting disrespectful or hurtful behavior. Sydney: When you say “normal,” do you mean normal for two people in just a professional relationship? . If you find problemsolving difficult and anxiety producing, it may be because you are fo- Take the Lead 211 cused on persuading them. This probably does have a lot to do with my identity, mostly because I consider myself such a perfectionist. Your husband wants his feelings acknowledged. And the fact that you are willing to try to understand their view doesn’t diminish the power you have to implement your decision, and to be clear that your decision is final. Explore Each Other’s Stories 29 Arguing Blocks Us from Exploring Each Other’s Stories But arguing is not only a result of our failure to see that we and the other person are in different stories — it is also part of the cause. If you and your significant other are grocery shopping, it is unlikely that only one of you will be putting food into the grocery cart. The And Stance allows you to recognize that how you each see things matters, that how you each feel matters. . We Assume the Worst. 48 Getting Their Intentions Wrong Is Costly 48 We Assume Bad Intentions Mean Bad Character 48 Accusing Them of Bad Intentions Creates Defensiveness 49 Attributions Can Become Self-Fulfilling 50 The Second Mistake: Good Intentions Don’t Sanitize Bad Impact 50 We Don’t Hear What They Are Really Trying to Say 50 We Ignore the Complexity of Human Motivations 51 We Aggravate Hostility — Especially Between Groups 52 Avoiding the Two Mistakes Avoiding the First Mistake: Disentangle Impact and Intent 53 53 Hold Your View as a Hypothesis 53 Share the Impact on You; Inquire About Their Intentions 54 Don’t Pretend You Don’t Have a Hypothesis 55 Some Defensiveness Is Inevitable 55 Avoiding the Second Mistake: Listen for Feelings, and Reflect on Your Intentions 56 Listen Past the Accusation for the Feelings 56 Be Open to Reflecting on the Complexity of Your Intentions 56 4. In addition, I have strong feelings and fears about what a court fight would mean for the family; I suspect you do too. They can make us feel vulnerable. Joseph decides to raise the matter with the home office. He told us he was working on learning to control his feelings. Sometimes the most genuine thing you can do is share your internal struggle to cast them in a more positive role. That makes me feel like I’m connecting with people in our community, which is part of what I get out of services. . Images of yourself or of the future are hardwired to your adrenal response, and shaking them up can cause an unmanageable rush of anxiety or anger, or an intense desire to get away. Expressing emotions openly is difficult for many of us. Blame Can Leave a Bad System Undiscovered Even if punishment seems appropriate, using it as a substitute for really figuring out what went wrong and why is a disaster. . When Trevor shifts his purposes from trying to change Karen’s behavior — arguing why being late is wrong — to trying first to understand Karen, and then to be understood by her, the situation improves dramatically: 30 The “What Happened?” Conversation Karen described how overwhelmed and overworked she is. In the past, Jason has raised the issue with Jill by saying, “Do I have to do everything around here? When your assumptions differ from those of others you can have an intersection such as Toby and Eng-An’s. When firing someone or breaking up or reducing orders, you do. The first thing we should do is hear from Aunt Bertha. Others know they are not, but don’t much care. . The other person will share their views and feelings, and you’ll step back into your story and share yours. Is it something Janet is doing? It’s not easy to find a place where you can set free the pain, or shame, you carry from your experiences. I’ll never make that mistake again! Greta: No, Mom, I know it’s really hard. The gold standard here is working for mutual understanding. . I can miss him terribly without the clutter of so many other feelings. What else feels important for you to learn? . “I Wonder If It Would Make Sense . So Rory does what we all do: If the other person is stubborn, we assert harder in an attempt to break through whatever is keeping them from seeing what is sensible. Instead, you could try two other things. . Accept That Feelings Are Normal and Natural. Everyone else might be quick to fly off the handle, but not Jimmy. Here’s the problem: While we care deeply about other people’s intentions toward us, we don’t actually know what their intentions are. She says a friend of 94 The Feelings Conversation hers is in town and wants to see a movie on Friday. Jack’s rule is something like “You should always show appreciation to others no matter what.” Many of us agree with this rule, but it is not a truth, just a rule. . Even that is hard for me to say. In the conflict between Jack and Michael, Jack believes the problem is Michael’s fault: the time to declare your hypersensitivity to formatting is before the brochure goes to print, not after. I’ll make a real effort to be home every night by six o’clock.” Your husband doesn’t seem satisfied, and you are left wondering what more you could have said. . For variety and to protect confidentiality, many of these stories are amalgams of different people’s experiences that shared common and important dynamics, and as a rule all identifying facts have been changed. . 88 The Feelings Conversation Late that afternoon, Emma and Kathy had a brief exchange about the situation: Emma: I heard you told the Executive Committee that I couldn’t handle the new responsibility. He can say to his daughter, “I wish I’d been there for you more often. . Of course, quantifying contribution is not easy, and in most cases not very helpful. “I helped her through her divorce, talked with her all the time, kept her company when she was feeling lonely. Sharing our feelings and making requests are two things that many of us have difficulty doing directly. 142 Create a Learning Conversation It’s Not My Responsibility to Make Things Better; It’s My Responsibility to Do My Best. If I’m not completely competent, then I’m completely incompetent: “Maybe I’m not as creative and special as I thought I was. In Rory’s story, what Aunt Bertha says sounds irrational. You recently learned that several black colleagues on the police force refer to you as an Uncle Tom. Michael: Jack, I still want to talk to you about something else. Letting go, at heart, is about how to handle with skill and grace not having a difficult conversation. But sometimes people do that to build a good record for when they decide to move on to the next job. He saw the ways in which he had contributed to the problem by not raising his feelings with Michael at the time, or as soon as the brochure was done. After all, you’re with yourself all the time; wouldn’t you be pretty familiar with your own perspective? We’re willing to be inconvenienced by someone if they have a good reason; we’re irritated if we think they just don’t care about the impact of their actions on us. It may take a little work to help them understand what it is you are proposing. We assume the collision is because of how the other person is; they assume it’s because of how we are. A Difficult Conversation Is Anything You Find It Hard to Talk About Sexuality, race, gender, politics, and religion come quickly to mind as difficult topics to discuss, and for many of us they are. Some people prefer to get their arms around the whole problem first, and can’t listen to anything else you say until they do.
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