I’m living with my partner. And raised two children. I worked in a number of corporates and have started two businesses. So, I had my fair share (and still going on) of conversations. And quite a lot of them were also difficult.
A gigantic playing field for learning how to have successful conversations. Or to mess them up and miss the mark. I succeeded in both.
According to research done by Stanford University, 9 out of 10 conversations miss the mark.
What do I mean by missing the mark?
Well, that’s fairly simple: when there is no result. Or not the desired one.
When we fall into set patterns instead of using our conversational skills to create trust and healthy connections. When we talk past each other instead of with other, maybe even banging our heads or letting fear and judgement taking over.
Every conversation has some objective: maybe just a simple sharing of information, maybe tasking someone with something, maybe to find solutions for issues, maybe to create an idea, maybe to plan…the list is endless.
We all talk with each other – some more, some less. I belong to the first category – ask my man. And there is A LOT going in when we communicate.
Signals we send and receive.
Words being spoken and interpreted.
Intentions set (or not) and we show up in different ways in different conversations. Open, friendly, energetic, closed, defensive, angry…you name it.
So, along the way, I learned what is really important for NOT screwing things up.
I noticed quickly that how we speak with each other defines the relationship we have with another human being. For a long time, I thought it was the other way around. Turns out it isn’t. Completely irrelevant if in business or in our private life.
And because it is so important – here it is again: The quality of our conversations will determine our relationships.
There is a ton of communication training out there and some of them are really useful. No trick or tool will help though unless we understand the basics of conversations and the mistakes we often make – without even noticing.
I mean REALLY listen. I wrote a whole post about this one, supposedly simple skill, which is anything but. If you choose to go into depth - here it is.
When we hear something in a conversation that rubs us the completely wrong way, it’s likely that emotions well up. Typically, not the ones we appreciate: anger, frustration, fury, sadness. And there is a tendency of not wanting to feel those emotions – particularly in the business environment.
And the next thing we know is that we push those emotions down. In case you wondered – those feelings – all stress-related – come along with Cortisol flooding your body. And the more we ruminate in the feeling, the longer this stays inside (up to 26 hours) and has a HUGE grip on us.
What to do instead:
So, rather accept the emotions coming up – don’t suppress them – these buggers will come back otherwise. Or they start sitting somewhere in our bodies and create havoc: with constant headaches or neck aches, tense shoulders, high blood pressure or worse.
That does not mean LIVE them! (just making sure). Look at them, give them permission to be there (yes, I sincerely invite you to talk to your emotions – it might sound ridiculous, it helps though) and see them getting smaller or even dissolve when you do.
And then you can decide to move on and shift your feeling.
We all live in our own realities. And see the world from our perspective. Literally and figuratively. So, when we hear someone saying, “This project should have been delivered a week ago”, we might hear
It completely and utterly depends on where WE are coming from and what kind of history and experiences we have - in this company, with this person – in regard to how we interpret the situation.
Let’s have a closer look. Every time someone says something, this has 3 components:
What to do instead:
Rather ASK (this turns out to be a real magic wand) what the person means exactly and why he mentions it. It there anything more behind? Or is it just a statement of facts?
Understanding. Getting the same perspective. Getting on the same page. You know what I mean.
Someone said something you took as a real offence, or someone says something that is untrue or something that makes us feel judged. And there we go – WE FEEL judged.
Did the other person intend to do so? Maybe. Still, it is in our control to respond, in the way WE determine. Otherwise, we’d quickly be the puppet of other people, right? Do you remember Pavlov’s dog experiment? Yes, that one. That’s not you. Nor me.
KNOW, that your reaction is yours. In other words: we are response-able for how we react.
Still, we might react quicker than we can think. Because there are those stupid triggers, that tend to get us.
What to do instead:
If we look very carefully (i.e. raise our awareness for ourselves) we will quickly find out what those triggers are and can the develop the capability to consciously change our reaction.
Sounds a bit academic? Yep, to some degree. And it’s really hard? Or you want to give the other person just a tiny bit of the blame for how you feel? Yes, I totally understand. Don’t believe for a second that I always manage. Even with having found (most of) my triggers.
Still, this is the truth. One of the most impressive examples I ever hear of is concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl (link). After I read his story, I knew that this is one of the huge powers we have. And while blaming others for our feelings or behaviour we literally giving up our power to others.
I personally have no intention to do so ever again. How about you?
It takes practice. Be patient with yourself. It’s important to start the process, then you will get more control over those damn things.
Jeez, that is something that can ruin your life. And your relationships. It’s almost as if we were brought up with the belief that the one who’s right, is the ‘winner’. And somehow better. Both is bollocks.
In organizations, this is happening constantly. With the result that we feel great, upbeat, positive, maybe even engaged when “we feel we are being right”. Contrary to the other person in the conversation who will feel upset, the urge to fight back, rigid or wronged.
And whose fault is that? Strictly speaking, (again) it’s the fault of hormones who come into play. For yourself, it’s oxytocin doing its job, for the other person rather the cortisol again.
The result: You guessed it – the conversation is either stuck or will end quickly or in an argument.
What to do instead:
The better path is simple: ASK (yes, this one again). And make clear what helps you in the conversation to make it successful: “Hey, I would find that helpful for both of us, if we were listening to what the other person has to say.”
If you’re the one who has the addiction of being right, be happy if someone points it out to you. If you keep doing that conversations (and relationships) will stay difficult.
While raising our awareness for what we're saying and even more so to the IMPACT it has what and how we’re saying things we can watch the reactions and react accordingly to what is going on. People close up - ask what is happening. People checking out - same thing: Ask.
I bet that people will start following and listen to you if you do.
Still very common for a lot of managers or leaders. Making sure that MY position is clear, that MY ideas are being introduced and that my directions are being followed. Or even talking over people – while having your own agenda – and no common one with the person or group you’re talking with.
The useful antidote no 1: Listening. And digging out the wonderful principle from "The 7 habits of highly effective people" by Steven Covey: "Seek first to understand, then to be understood".
If you have never read this book - simply get it. One of the best books when it comes to powerful lessons in personal change.
Recently I heard a wonderful definition for understanding from the late Judith E. Glaser: “Understanding means standing under the same reality. So that we can achieve shared success.”
Brilliant. When we show that we care, show that we're interested in a common agenda, conversations miraculously shift.
And all of those mistakes are easier to eliminate if we have conversations on the basis of trust – still the most powerful and totally legal performance-enhancing drug. Or call it magic sauce.
If we start opening not just our minds, but also our hearts in conversations, we can start activating the best in other human beings….and in ourselves.