Tag Archives: difficult conversations

How to Have Crucial Conversations: Resist Silence &Violence!

How to Resist Silence  and Violence
Lips Sewn By a Thread

In my last article, I wrote about the importance of Crucial Conversations and dialogue in maintaining healthy and positive relationships (personally and professionally) and how difficult and risky these discussions can be. Yet, one of the biggest reasons people struggle with crucial conversations or avoid them altogether is that they do not feel safe. According to the authors of Crucial Conversations, safety is an essential ingredient for crucial conversations and dialogue because when people feel safe, they can say anything. However, when safety is missing, people believe that they cannot express their opinions and feelings without feeling judged or fear that their voices will not be heard. And when people feel unsafe, they turn to unhealthy patterns of silence or violence which reduces the possibility for honest and meaningful dialogue or progress.

The authors of Crucial Conversations further explained that dialogue requires a free flow of information. But when people feel that their opinions and ideas won’t be accepted, they start to withdraw and hide (silence) or push too hard, (violence). Therefore, to help people feel safe in these crucial conversations, we must establish mutual purpose and mutual respect by letting the other person know that we care about them and their issue and that we have shared goals. When we make people feel safe in tough conversations, we can talk about anything, and people will listen. Afterall, if we don’t fear that we will be being attacked or humiliated, we can hear anything and not become defensive.

We All Deserve to Feel Safe and Respected- Quote
We All Deserve to Feel Safe and Respected Quote

How to Make People Feel Safe

For example, think about a time when you received corrective feedback that was really painful or uncomfortable. How did you react? If you trusted the person and felt they had your best interest at heart, the message (however difficult) might have been much easier to hear. But, if you didn’t trust the person giving you the feedback or questioned the motive behind the feedback, you are more likely to be offended, respond defensively and the communication would breakdown.

Once our emotions take over a conversation, things can get ugly and spiral out of control as voices get raised or become very quiet. One way for us to to avoid this is to practice self-awareness by noticing what we feel and what we do when we begin to get upset. Do we tense up, raise our voice, use sarcasm or do we just shut down and leave the conversation? Noticing our emotions and naming what we are feeling can help up better manage them emotions. It is also important for us to look out for signs that the other person might not feel safe and when their energy and tone begin to change. When we notice the energy of the conversation deteriorating, we should shift focus from the point we are trying to get across and attempt to restore safety to the conversation before we continue.

Plus in crucial conversations, how we discuss the issues or matter at hand is more important than the what we are discussing. Before we enter these conversations, we should check our emotions, assumptions, biases and start with positive intent, good will while focusing on the core issue(s). This is important since we cannot change or control others, we can only control ourselves. So, be ready to listen to the other person’s perspective, be authentic and show respect.

Mistakes to Avoid- Wooden Character
Mistakes to Avoid- Wooden Character

Mistakes to Avoid in Crucial Conversations

So, what does silence and violence look like in our everyday interactions and conversations? According to the authors, the three main ways in which we practice silence are masking, avoiding, and withdrawing.

  • Masking: This is when we minimize situations or selectively share our opinions and feelings. This can also involve using sarcasm, downplaying an issue or sugar coating to make something seem better than it really is.  
  • Avoiding: This is where two persons talk but deliberatively steer away from sensitive subjects. So, while they talk, they intentionally talk about everything but the real issue and the situation at hand remains unaddressed.
  • Withdrawing: This is where you literally check out of the conversation (mentally and emotionally) or physically pull out of a conversation or exit the room.

When it comes to violence, the most common ways that we do this is :

  • Controlling: This involves pressuring others to your way of thinking. It is done by either forcing your views on others or dominating the conversation. Methods include interrupting others, overstating the facts, using generalizations and absolutes, and changing the subject.
  • Labelling: This is where you put a label on people or ideas, so you dismiss them under a general stereotype or category.
  • Attacking: This one speaks for itself since it moves from winning the argument to making the other personal suffer. Tactics include belittling and threatening others with ultimatums or “tit for tat’ statements.
Communication, Dialogue, Conversation
Communication, Dialogue, Conversation

Five Skills for Effective Dialogue

So how do we avoid silence and violence and improve our skills to help us have better dialogue? According to the authors of Crucial Conversations, changing our behavior and patterns starts with the heart. Since we cannot fix anyone but ourselves, we must start with the man/woman in the mirror by examining our personal role in any problem we face. So rather than striving to look good, win, or achieve some other unhealthy objective, we need to ask ourselves, “What do I really want?” And while we don’t want to water down our message to make it easier for the other person to swallow, we must find a way to be confident but humble. And, we will also need to know how to speak without offending and be persuasive without being abrasive. All of this is necessary to help the other person(s) feel safe.

So here are five skills which the authors recommend to help us to confidently share our opinions in tough conversations and humbly and honestly invite others to do the same.

  1. Share your facts: Start with your observations. If you aren’t sure what your facts are, take the time to think about them before you enter a crucial conversation. Avoid jumping to conclusions and basing your crucial conversation on your emotions, judgements, or the stories you made up in your head. Facts are less insulting to other people, so start with the facts and then move to your story.
  • Tell your story: Sharing your story can be delicate process. Even if you started with your facts, the person could still become defensive when you move from facts to stories as you might have to point out negative conclusions about the other person. Nonetheless, do your homework to ensure that you can confidently and clearly use facts to back up your story.
  •  Ask for others path: Once you have shared your feelings and perspectives, it is important for you to invite the other person to do the same. Encourage them to share their facts, stories and feelings and be prepared to listen to what they might have to say. By being open to learning, you are both demonstrating humility.
  • Talk tentatively:  This means that we should tell our facts and stories as a story rather than as sharing it as a hard fact which is unchangeable. One way to talk tentatively is to pay attention to your choice of words. When sharing your story, try to strike a balance between being humble and confident. For example, instead of saying, “The fact is”, change it to “In my opinion”. This is important because while you are trying to get your views across, you cannot force it down another person’s throat.  Speaking in absolutes and overstating does not increase your influence, it decreases it.
  • Encourage testing: When you ask others to share their path, pay attention to how you do it because it can make all the difference. Not only should you invite others to talk, but you should also make it clear that no matter how controversial their viewpoint might be, you still want to hear them. People need to feel safe to share their stories especially when they differ from yours. We can disagree and still respect each other.

Ultimately, everyone is entitled to their own views and feelings as we experience and interpret the the things that happen to us and the world around us differently. The goal of crucial conversations is promote healthy and positive relationships through honest and meaningful dialogue. So, the next time you find yourself in a crucial conversation, resist the urge to turn to silence and violence and use the five skills to stay engaged in dialogue.

Until next time, Remember, ItsALearningLife!

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Crucial Conversations: We Need to Talk!

Let's- Talk- Post -It-Image
Let’s- Talk -Post- It -Image

When it comes to personal and professional relationships, the four words “We need to talk” can sound threatening and unsettling. And while no one has directed them to me lately, I recently had a few crucial conversations with people in both my personal and professional lives.None of these conversations were comfortable, but all of them were necessary. These crucial conversations took vulnerability, patience, a willingness for us to share our feelings and thoughts openly and honestly while listening to the other person’s perspective. I know that the thought of having a crucial conversation might sound daunting or like something reserved for big and important situations- but they aren’t. We have crucial conversations every day on just about everything. So, what makes a conversation crucial?

Importance of Crucial Conversations

In the book Crucial Conversations, a crucial conversation is defined as one where there is discussion between two or more people where stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions run strong. Based on this definition, a crucial conversation could be about the decision to take the COVID-19 vaccine (or not) or talking with a sibling about caregiving for a family member with a serious health diagnosis. Other examples of crucial conversations we might have include ending a relationship; talking to a coworker who behaved offensively; asking a friend to repay a debt; giving your supervisor feedback they may not like; dealing with a rebellious teenager and confronting a loved one with a substance abuse problem. Regardless of what your issue(s) might be, we can all agree that having crucial conversations can be tough.

According to the authors of the book, when we feel the need to have these crucial conversations, we can do one of three things: we can avoid them, we can face them and handle them poorly, or we can face them and handle them well. But how does the average person usually respond? Ironically, the more crucial the conversation, the less likely we are to handle it well. We often hold things inside by going silent until we can take it no longer—and then we drop a bomb. From my own experience and that of others around me, people usually get upset and lose sight of the issue(s), emotions take over, angry words are spoken, and the situation escalates far beyond what the initial issue(s) might have been.

Therefore, according to the authors, we move between silence and violence where we either don’t handle the conversation, or don’t handle it well. And while we may not become physically violent, we attack others’ ideas and feelings. When we fail to have crucial conversation, every aspect of our lives can be affected (positively or negatively)—from our careers to our communities, to our relationships, to our personal health.

Engage -Ignore -Warning -Sign
Engage -Ignore-Warning- Sign-Image

 The Cost of Silence

Let’s face it, crucial conversations can be challenging, especially when you want to communicate your needs, share bad news, challenge how work is being done, ask uncomfortable questions, or openly discuss matters which everyone knows but no one want to talk about. Despite the importance of crucial conversations, we often back away from them because we fear we’ll make matters worse. For example, how many times have you left a voicemail instead of waiting to talk to the person?  Or texted a decision rather than have a face-to-face conversation? How many times have you seen coworkers send emails to each other when they should walk down corridors to talk to each other? Crucial conversations are necessary for both people and organizations to grow and thrive.

When and where this does not happen – silence kills. This is perhaps best summed up by the quote from Martin Luther King Jr. that says “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Afterall, how often have you observed team members slacking off and no one said anything. Or seen couples in conflict withdraw into from each other due to differences in approaches to parenting or finances? In both situations, it’s not the disagreement in approach or the lack of productivity that will cause the biggest problem and damage. The most far-reaching damage to the relationship and organizational productivity is typically caused by silence -when no one does or says anything.

Final Thoughts

Is there a way to avoid the silence or violence approach? Absolutely. Rather than suffering in silence or lashing out and hurting ourselves and others, the authors of Crucial Conversations recommend that we engage in dialogue to get all the relevant information into the open. While having dialogue can be difficult and risky, it creates a space for people to express their opinions, feelings, and thoughts openly and honestly even when there is disagreement. Because when we do this, we create what is called “a pool of shared meaning.” This pool of shared meaning gives us the ability to talk, listen and act together rather than making assumptions (See last post) and some of the unhealthy communication patterns that some of our crucial conversations fall into.

So, can we learn the skills to improve our ability to have dialogue and crucial conversations?

Yessssss! All of us have the ability to learn the skills that will enable us to have crucial conversations, stop toxic and unhelpful communication practices and habits and engage in more healthy interactions. To learn more about these strategies, check out next week’s article – How to Resist Silence and Violence with Crucial Conversation- Part 2.

Until next time, Remember, ItsaLearningLife!

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