May 1, 2024

Unlocking Effective Communication – Part 2

By Amie Bilson
Mental Health & Wellbeing

In my previous blog, we explored two essential concepts for successful conversations: avoiding the fool’s choice and adding to the pool of meaning. These principles, introduced in the book “Crucial Conversations,” are particularly valuable when emotions run high, stakes are significant, and opinions diverge. If you missed that blog, you can find it here:

Discovery Your Dialogue Reflexes

Becoming a better communicator starts with introspection. Take a close look at yourself and identify areas where you can improve to avoid the fool’s choice and contribute to meaningful dialogue. When you find yourself in an important conversation, pay attention to how you react. Do you withdraw and become silent? Do you manipulate the situation to achieve your desired outcome? Or perhaps you firmly stake your ground, ready for a debate?

Successful conversations require self-awareness. Recognize your communication patterns and their impact on information flow. Become aware of what you do to promote or inhibit the free flow of information. Avoid falling into the trap of believing that everything will improve if the other person changes. If your crucial conversations often end in silence, resentment, or quiet resistance, challenge yourself to break the cycle.

Identify Your Motive

Before engaging in any conversation, clarify your motives. What do you truly want from this interaction? For instance:

  • “I want to collaborate with my spouse to decide where our children will attend school. Our decision should make everyone happy.”

Skilled conversationalists keep their motives at the forefront throughout the discussion. However, emotions can escalate, and pressure may mount due to differing opinions. At such moments, we often abandon our original motive without even realizing it. Adrenaline kicks in, and our goals shift:

  • “I need to win.”
  • “I must correct the facts.”
  • “I’ll teach them a lesson.”

Alternatively, we might take flight from the conversation—becoming quiet or avoiding conflict altogether. Unfortunately, these shifts hinder successful dialogue by preventing relevant information from entering the pool of meaning.

Stay Focused on your Goal

As mentioned earlier, preparation is key when entering a critical conversation. Take time to identify your objectives and what you hope to achieve during the interaction. Additionally, recognize what you want to avoid. Here are four essential questions to ask yourself before engaging in a crucial conversation:

  • What do I really want for myself?
    • Consider your personal goals and desired outcomes.
  • What do I really want for others?
    • Think about the well-being and needs of the other person.
  • What do I really want for this relationship?
    • Reflect on how the conversation impacts your relationship.
  • What is something I really don’t want?
    • Identify potential pitfalls or negative outcomes.

Once you’ve clarified your wants and don’t-wants, explore ways to achieve both. For instance:

  • “How can I discuss vacation plans with my spouse without dominating the conversation or letting anger take over?”
  • “Is it possible to address my neighbor’s loud music without offending them?”

This becomes your goal: balancing your desires while maintaining a constructive dialogue.

Stay on Course

During the conversation, stay attuned to your emotions. If you feel yourself becoming overly emotional, debating, or withdrawing into silence, pause and ask, “What do I really want?” This question serves as your compass. Not only does it reorient your mind, but it can also deescalate strong emotions. Challenge your brain with cognitive questions, take a deep breath, and relax your muscles. These actions will physiologically shift you out of fight-or-flight mode, resulting in the ability to think more clearly.

Remember, effective communication is a skill that can be learned. Sometimes, having a coach or supportive individual can enhance the learning process. Counseling provides valuable support as you develop new dialogue skills. If you’re working toward improving your communication abilities, feel free to reach out—I’d be happy to assist!

Written By

Amie Bilson

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