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.
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 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.
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.
- 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!