Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Having a conversation with confidence and a clear understanding of what was said and shared is familiar; yet when following up, confusion and uncertainty can exist. We might say or hear, “That’s not what you said,” or “I did what we discussed,” or “That’s not true.”

Have you ever waited in front of a school for your child after an event only to find out they rode home with a friend? How about when, at your weekly team meeting, the excellent conversations that took place at the previous meeting seem forgotten by everyone else who attended?

Why is there a gap between what we see, hear, and say, and what others see, hear, and say? Ultimately, the gap keeps us from understanding each other.

It’s human nature to want to avoid or leave conversations when emotions are strong or when the space feels uncomfortable. However, if we are willing to take a risk and engage in an uncomfortable conversation—such as when we are trying to bridge the gap between what everyone said and heard—the outcome can often be more positive than expected.

Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

If we believe the inferences we make about what we see and hear are true, and we avoid opposing conversations, how can we create a mutual understanding?

Backed by more than 30 years of social science research, Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler introduced Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High (2002). The authors encourage self-reflection to reveal assumptions, exploring each others’ ideas, speaking humbly, and taking joint action.

The authors introduce seven main principles for engaging in clear, productive conversations, particularly when working through disagreement:

  • Start with heart: Check your true motive and confirm your intent to remain open to infinite possibilities.
  • Master my stories: Identify what is fact and discover what your story is.
  • State my path: With confidence and curiosity, share your facts, tell your story, and ask for others’ perspectives.
  • Make it safe: Establish unconditional positive regard by showing respect and expressing a sense of individual belonging.
  • Learn to look: Notice signs that indicate you or others may feel it is unsafe to share, then stop discussing and reset a safe space.
  • Explore others’ paths: Listen purposefully, invite honesty, commit to discovering what everyone can agree upon, and then together develop strategies for more honest communications
  • Move to action: Mutually plan on next steps.

Engaging In Conversation Is Worth the Risk

Relationships are important and can sometimes be fragile and it’s important to remember that how we interpret what we see and hear affects how we act, and the same is true for those with whom we are communicating.

Humbly engaging in conversations requires accepting that there is an infinite number of interpretations and that we might encounter moments of uncomfortability.

Understanding each other means we must first recognize our own uniqueness, the gaps we may unintentionally create, and acknowledge the same in others. Bridging these gaps as we communicate requires commitment to finding what works for both parties, which can lead to positive change in creating an outcome better than you initially expected.

Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialog (Self-Guided and Virtual), is offered through MyTraining, Employee Self-service, The University of Iowa.

Image Credit: "Graphic Conversation" by Marc Wathieu is marked with CC BY-NC 2.0.