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May 152017

“Sometimes I think I’m in a conversation with 6 people, when I am talking with my co-worker” a coaching client said to me the other day. There can be and often are many voices that want to be heard in a difficult conversation between 2 people.

We have as much of the conversation in our head with our own critical voice as with the other person’s critical voice, the voice of the boss, the co-worker’s voice and possibly a bunch more voices, such as those of our parents, siblings and friends.

In the previous blogpost we explored the dynamic of the interactions we have with our inner self, our state of being, thoughts, feelings and awareness (or lack thereof) of the relationship with ourselves. We identified that dynamic as “Self with Self.”

Let’s now have a closer look at the dynamic between us and the other in the challenging interaction: “Self with the Other.”

An excellent communicator continually pays attention to what the other says with words and without words. What each of us does or says in that tough situation is impacting the other. Understanding and awareness of that impact is key to working things out together.

Below I share 5 key aspects of effectively managing “yourself with others” in difficult conversations:

The second dynamic: “Self with other” in your toughest conversation

1.The Power of Acknowledgement

When we acknowledge the other person’s experience by stating out loud what we understand their experience to be, thus we make a much-needed connection with the other in the difficult situation. In an acknowledgment of experiences, the other person feels heard by you, which, in turn, opens the channel for you to be heard as well.

2. Stop “Silverlining”; Use Empathy

Acknowledgment is the gateway to empathy. Empathy is not equal to sympathy. Empathy connects people, while sympathy separates us from the other, because sympathy is a reflection about self and not about the other. (” I am so sorry for you”). We show empathy by expressing deep understanding of what the other person is going through, without “silverlining”  (“At least you’re still working there…”) or judging the other’s experience.

3. Know the roller coaster (of emotions)

When strong emotions come up for the other in the conversation, it is important to be alert and aware of how these emotions trigger us and could make us less resourceful in our responses. How constructive are you with expressing emotions between you and the other? When the other withdraws from the conversation, do you withdraw or get angry?

4. Take down the walls

When we feel defensiveness coming up at what the other is saying, we are no longer listening. We are then caught up in our own response. The other is merely expressing their experience of what is going on. When we become defensive we are actually “leaving” the tough interaction and going “somewhere else.” The result is disconnection and often more conflict. When we experience the other attacking us, however, it may be appropriate, in our own defense, to acknowledge that a boundary was crossed. Assertively stating that this is not how we want to be treated may help the other become aware of their destructive behavior.

5. Postpone judgment by asking questions

Last but not least, I encourage you stay open, postpone your judgment and get in the mode of asking questions, based on genuine curiosity. Only when we put our judgment aside, can we be totally present with the other person and with ourselves. That is genuine attention; a true gift. And it’s just one less voice to deal with.

More Resources for You: 
> WEBINAR: In case you’ve missed it here is the recording of a webinar I conducted last Spring: “Key Strategies for Taking the “Difficult” out of Difficult Conversations.”
> CARD SET: Little Upsides assist you to get to know yourself better in difficult situations with others. A colorful card set with 50 quotes and questions to dig a little deeper and set a constructive tone for your interactions.
May 152017

Entering a difficult conversation is as tricky as being out on the ocean on a sailboat in a thunderstorm. I have done both and avoided both when I could. The unexpected wind changes would make my boat rock and each lightning bolt could send a shock of electricity through the boat that would make my hair stand up straight. That is exactly how it felt for a long time when I had to engage into a tough conversation.

Just like with sailing, I picked up skills over the years to navigate through the difficult conversations in my life, managing the lightning bolts caused by emotions and gaining more courage and new skills to bring the conversation into calmer water.

Will there ever be a moment that tough conversations will be easy? I don’t know. What I do know is that we can keep practicing. Overtime we become more confident, comfortable and skilled at it. It’s a life long learning process and we want to keep practicing.

Three Dynamic Dimensions in Tough Conversations

I have learned that there are 3 dynamic dimensions to a difficult conversation, in which we focus on managing ourselves within ourselves, ourselves with others, and ourselves with the process. The challenge and art is to keep the focus on all three dynamics at the same time when we are going through the waves of a tough conversation.

“Self with self” is where relationship mastery starts. When we are unaware of the impact of our internal judgments, biases, emotions, beliefs and assumptions, we act mindlessly and a difficult conversation will continue to be difficult.

Managing ourselves with mindfulness, self-love, and understanding is impacting how we are showing up in these challenging interactions. Here are 5 key tips about how to show up as your best self in a tough exchange, while keeping an eye on “self with self. ”

1.Establish a mindfulness practice for yourself

This could be meditation, yoga, breathing, nature walks, or any practice that helps you get in touch with what is going on inside of you

2.Know your resources 

When we are thrown off balance by our own emotions such as anger or judgments we need to find a way to get back to our “resourceful” self. What are some of the resources you have available? (E.g. music, journaling, a time out, etc.)

3.Mind your language (your inner chatter)

The ways we talk to ourselves influence our relationship with ourselves and consequently with others. How we “language” our experience is incredibly impactful and meaningful.

4.Self-awareness leads to healthy relationship management

When we know ourselves well, our strengths and limitations, we know how to manage ourselves in difficult situations.

5.Become Present

The moment we start thinking about how we are going to respond to the other, we are no longer present with the other and we stop listening. Instead, listen deeply and trust that you have the best response at your fingertips, when the other person has finished speaking.

More Resources for You: 
> WEBINAR: In case you’ve missed it here is the recording of a webinar I conducted last Spring: “Key Strategies for Taking the “Difficult” out of Difficult Conversations.”
> CARD SET: Little Upsides assist you to get to know yourself better in difficult situations with others. A colorful card set with 50 quotes and questions to dig a little deeper and set a constructive tone for your interactions.
Jun 202016

Fine, whatever.

Click here to listen to the Podcast: “The Workplace Problem Nobody Will Talk About”

 

Whether it’s the office note-leaver or the backhanded compliment master, everyone has witnessed passive aggressive behavior in the workplace.

But why does it happen? And what can we do about it?

In a talk with Brandon Laws of Xenium HR, I go over some of these issues with regards to passive aggressive behavior in the workplace.

In the Podcast, we discuss how to spot it, why it happens and how it can impact the workplace. Finally, we go over some ways you can manage your passive aggressive employees to create a more positive workplace.

May 052016

Enjoy this Webinar! If you like what you’ve learned, please share with others!

Feb 112015

Have you ever started a campfire that ended up being this annoying smoking pile of wood? It was a struggle to keep it going, because you’ve used wet fire starters or choked it with big blocks of wood? Well, I have. In all the years of camping, I’ve learned that it depends on what I do at the start of a campfire if it turns into a cozy fire or a smoking hell. Well, this may sound simple, but the same goes for conflict!

You have to understand one thing about conflict. Conflict is a dynamic process with a beginning, middle and end. Just like a campfire. Although we usually don’t get that warm feeling about conflict that we have when we think of a campfire.

A conflict typically starts with one particular event: the spark that starts the fire. Someone says or does something that triggers a reaction from us. We either choose to feed the fire with our destructive impulsive reactions such as an external confrontation or an outburst. Or we keep our response inside and let negative feelings fester, depending on our style and preference.

An alternative is to choose a response that is more constructive from the beginning, such as reaching out or listening to understand the others point of view. The more constructive our response is to the triggering event, the smaller the chance that a conflict escalates.

Just like with a campfire, how a conflict develops depends strongly on what we feed it in the beginning. Of course, this is as far as the metaphor with campfire works, because conflict is so much more complex. We want the conflict to resolve as soon as possible and we want the campfire to keep going. Either way, the events that occur early in the process and our behavior at the beginning of conflict are especially important for how the conflict unfolds. It’s up to you how you choose to respond to that initial spark.

What do you know about your own behavior at the onset of conflict? Are you choosing to feed the fire with destructive responses right from the start? Or are you helping to put out the fire with constructive behaviors that foster connection and mutual understanding? Have you seen a difference in the way conflict develops in your life, depending on which responses you chose?

If you find it hard not to react to that initial spark, try to stop, breathe and take a moment to think about the best response. Just observe your initial reaction, and don’t take any action yet until you know it’s a constructive one that helps in resolving the issue.

Dec 152014

We’re paying a high price for giving in. By giving in, we are giving up what we want out of the relationship and out of life. We are not meeting our own needs when we are giving in, which often leads to resentment and bitterness towards the other. Resentment, if not expressed and dealt with, may lead to depression. I have seen these consequences show up more than once with my coaching clients, as well as in my own life. In every case, it damages the relationship we have with ourselves and with the other.

Here are 3 questions to ponder some more. Think of a situation in your professional or personal life where you were giving in – not matching what you were saying with what you were thinking.

  1. Why did I give in with this person?
  2. What has been the (professional/personal) price I had to pay for giving in?
  3. How could I/the relationship benefit from me speaking up next time?

Live the life you want to live. Be thankful, be courageous, be real

Dec 082014

Last week you might have explored what your main reason is for giving in when there is the chance of an argument unfolding. What is your gain or loss when you give in?

Giving in is not necessarily a bad thing to do. I can think of many situations when it is more desirable to accommodate the other person. I’m addressing here the event of giving in that is harmful for us.

Fear of Confrontation: We may accommodate the other person out of a desire to please them and be kind, a belief that we don’t deserve to be treated better, the fear of losing a loved one or with an intention not to hurt anyone’s feelings. The chance is big that we are missing out on an opportunity to show who we really are and create a closer and more dynamic relationship with the other person. All these reasons are bundled into one neat package: The Fear of Confrontation.

Although it is the most common response to any differences that arise between people, giving in or accommodating is the least noticed. We just don’t see it happen when someone is doing it, because of the discrepancy between what is said and thought. That is often where the trouble begins between two people with differences. That is what makes a conversation a difficult one.

Next week we’ll explore the high price we are paying by giving in.

Dec 012014

Have you ever had someone cancel a meeting with you several times? The other day a colleague re-scheduled a meeting with me for the third time in a row on very short notice and I said, “Oh that’s okay! I understand that things can happen.” I wanted to be nice to my colleague and not make him feel bad. What I actually thought was: “How disrespectful to reschedule again, I must not be important to you.” While this may have been an understandable thought, it wasn’t constructive as it provoked feelings of resentment and resistance towards my colleague.

How often do we say something like: “I couldn’t care less,” “I don’t want to argue with you about this” or “I’m sorry” while internally we think: “I didn’t do anything wrong, but I just want you to stop yelling at me?” What we are actually doing here is giving in.

There are many different reasons why we think one thing and say another and we’ll explore those next week. This week start exploring by asking yourself: What is the main reason I am giving in and what do I gain/loose with giving in?

Oct 072014

In her book, Taking the War Out of Our Words: The Art of Powerful Non-Defensive Communication, Sharon Ellison estimates that we use 95% of our communications energy being defensive. As soon as we feel any threat, either of not getting what we want or of being put down in some way, we are ready to protect ourselves by being defensive.

Imagine how much more productive our communications could be if we learned how to respond nondefensively and to avoid provoking defensiveness in others! Take this quiz to see how defensive you tend to be.

  1. When a client, boss, coworker or colleague points out a flaw in my work, I am quick to show him or her how it wasn’t my fault.
  2. If I am at fault for something, it’s because of some factor outside of myself over which I had no control.
  3. When people are upset with me, I let them know with explanations and excuses why they are wrong.
  4. I’m always looking for the hidden critical message beneath another’s words.
  5. If I don’t defend myself, I’ll get run over.
  6. I can rarely admit that I am wrong.
  7. If I think someone will have something critical to say, I avoid talking to that person.

 

If you responded true more often than false to the above questions, consider some of the following alternatives to defensiveness.

  1. I’m always looking to improve my work, service or product, so I welcome feedback from clients, my boss or customers on how well I am doing (or not).
  2. I realize that when I’m feeling defensive, I don’t feel safe, competent or confident.
  3. When someone criticizes me, I sit with it to see if there’s a kernel of truth in the criticism. If there is, I acknowledge it and work to improve in that area.
  4. By my willingness to admit and correct any errors, I engender trust and confidence from employees, bosses, clients and customers.
  5. When someone is leveling a complaint, I ignore the words “always” and “never” and instead focus on the rest of the message.
  6. I take responsibility for what I can change.
  7. I listen for the usually hidden need expressed in a person’s complaint or anger, acknowledge the need, and then see whether there is something I can do to meet it.

Please don’t hesitate to call if you’d like to explore this issue further.

Sep 162014

On Sunday, September 21st people all over the world celebrate the 30th anniversary of International Peace Day. Now, more than ever, this day has meaning to all of us, the entire human race, so I wanted to share some thoughts about this day.

To me, it sometimes feels overwhelming to talk about establishing world peace. I mean, where do we be begin with all the global wars that are raging right now?

My philosophy of conflict resolution is that it starts at the kitchen table with a cup of tea. In my point of view any conflict, regardless of its complexity, can be dealt with at a kitchen table where a few people come together to patiently share, explore, be curious, ask questions and listen, listen, listen. We need courage and a simple process to interact in such a way.

Effective conflict resolution is about exploring each other differences in values, point of views, goals and other areas where we differ. In its most simple form it is only that: exploring, listening and understanding. When it comes down to it, we all have the same basic human needs such as appreciation, acknowledgment and acceptance.

I really do think that if we can bring world leaders together with individual fighters, rebels, and terrorists to skillfully conduct such kitchen table dialogues, world peace would be within reach and the world would end up being a better place.

That brings up the question what we can do at an individual level on The International Day of Peace, to promote peace in the workplace, our homes, neighborhoods and ultimately in the world.

Is it time for you to bring up the courage to have a “Kitchen Table Dialogue” where you put all your concerns, your differences out on the kitchen table and look at them together with your dialogue partner? Where are we different, where are we wanting the same, how can we look beyond our needs to the greater good? Listen to ourselves; where are we holding on to judgments and old beliefs? Share what assumptions you are making about the situation or about the other and check if these assumptions are true for the other.

A Kitchen Table Dialogue is built upon the belief that people are more alike than different, and that dialogue can create deeper empathy, break down barriers and build relationships. Ultimately, these relationships can help us create positive changes in the world.

A couple of simple processes and tools come to mind that assist in having focused, effective Kitchen Table Dialogues such as the mediation process (I like to call this process a “Facilitated Dialogue”) or a structured conversation model as Jump Movement. Thought provoking cards such as the Little Upsides™ may help move the conversation forward as well.

Kitchen Table Dialogues matter, because if we can’t practice and find peace in our home and place of work, how can we expect to find peace beyond these places? I realize that I am asking some big questions and I would like to ask: “What do you think about what I just said?” Let me know in the comment box below!