Wait A Minute – I Have To Take This Call

Have you even been engaged in deep conversation with a friend when their cell phone rang and you were “put on hold?” Or, perhaps you were in the midst of an important business discussion when a text was received and you were “cut off” in mid-sentence? I’ll bet that didn’t feel good!

How can we balance the extraordinary advances and benefits of digital technology in our lives without sacrificing the irreplaceable and powerful rewards of in-person human interaction and conversation?

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Not being a slave to digital technology is one way! Each individual deserves your full attention. For all its significant benefits, it is important not to let technology own you. Cell phones especially can:

  • Distract attention and diminish the quality of conversation.
  • Lack the spontaneity of real-time, in-person conversations.
  • Diminish the quality, connection and commitment of each conversation.
  • Enable us to “hide” from each other by avoiding a person, a problem or a situation.
  • Preclude substantive discussions.
  • Pressure us to always be connected or available to others.
  • Enable people to seemingly be connected but, in reality, they are “alone.”

We all have experienced unpleasant, rude behavior by people on their cell phones. Talking loudly in public. Making or answering calls or texts during conversations or meals. Holding up lines while on the phone. I’m sure you have your own stories.

While spotlighting a few challenges inherent with digital technology, I acknowledge and appreciate the convenience of mobile phones, texting and emails in our lives. A few ways include:

  • Managing logistics and plans easily and quickly.
  • Leaving messages from anywhere, at any time.
  • Sending a virtual “high-five” or an encouraging message.
  • Finding directions and information while on the move, but not while driving.
  • Uniting us easily and quickly with simple messages and answers.
  • Getting simple answers and help fast.

Since we live with great technological advances, it’s important that we understand how to utilize all of the benefits. However, it’s critical to acknowledge how our human interaction and productivity can be negatively impacted. It does require a conscious effort to balance the help and intrusions of digital technology, and the choice is yours to make!

Business gets done by people’s productivity, commitment and relationships, often facilitated by technology. Scheduling meetings. Handling emergencies. Conference calls. However, digital devices often interrupt and distract the real-time, in-person collaboration and engagement needed for having quality conversations and building trust.

Without face-to-face communication, genuine connection, shared experience and spontaneous chats, we lack the substantive conversations that help us learn and clarify our thinking. In-person conversation is an important way of being with each other and includes rich non-verbal messages that build trust, connection, productivity, creativity and understanding.

Our need for human contact is essential and digital technology can foster superficial connectivity, alienation and isolation in a virtual world. Technology will not improve the quality of our lives if we cannot successfully navigate being bombarded with data and disconnected from one another. As we expect more from digital technology, we must guard against expecting less from each other.

Esther C. Bleuel
MF, MFT, MDR
President and Founder
Esther is dedicated to empowering leaders and teams to improve the quality of their work and interpersonal relationships through the mastery of conversational skills. Contact Esther today for assistance with your tough conversations.

A Search For Common Ground – Part Three: Conversations That Work!

A Search For Common Ground – Part One: Authentic Discourse

A Search For Common Ground – Part Two: Overcoming Resistance

None of us wants to be judged or criticized, especially for our thoughts and beliefs. We want to feel safe before we’re willing to talk openly and share our opinions, especially about “hot” topics. Because uncertainty induces fear, we want to trust in each other’s good intentions.

If you’ve decided to tackle a tough topic with someone and desire to have a constructive conversation rather than an adversarial debate or a conflict, recognize that there are always (at least) two sides in any situation.

TO PREPARE, ASK YOURSELF THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS

1) Are you emotionally ready to resist the temptation to judge, criticize, denigrate or attack the person with whom you disagree in order to pursue mutual understanding?

2) Is your true motive for engaging in a tough talk about a social or political issue, to learn, to understand, to persuade the other person, or to win?

3) Are you ready and willing to listen in order to understand, without interrupting or judging?

4) Are you willing to be civil and speak with care and respect?

READY TO PROCEED WITH AN INVITATION TO CONVERSE?
1) Determine whether the other person would be interested in establishing clarity of purpose and a spirit of collaboration. Is it someone who would make the same kind of effort that you are prepared to make? If the person declines, accept the response.

2) Establish “ground rules” for how to proceed: one topic at a time, a time and place with no distractions or interruptions, no acting out (yelling, walking away, bad language, attacking), and shared speaking and listening time.

3) Bring your best self to the conversation. Manage yourself so you have no regrets about your behavior.

4) Listen actively — seek to understand with no interrupting. Paraphrase the meaning you hear and show respect by responding to the points made and affirm your understanding. This helps to avoid misunderstandings and ensures that you are both discussing the same thing and not talking past each other — a common problem with challenging conversations.

5) Speak only for yourself, from personal experience, not defending or representing an ideological approach or an entire political party.

6) Maintain a positive spirit of dialogue; a learning attitude. Avoid a critical or dismissive tone or other negative non-verbal communication— lack of eye contact, deep sighs, crossing your arms. This is important because the most powerful and credible communication is not the actual words we use.

7) Engage to comprehend the other person’s perspectives and beliefs, not to persuade. You cannot change people. The only person you can change is you.

8) Seek first to understand (facts, issues, perspectives, priorities), then to be understood. Assumptions are deadly and are usually wrong. Paraphrase the person’s meaning before you disagree.

Most of the time, discovery of common ground results from mutual understanding and regard for the hopes, fears and values that underlie individual perspectives and beliefs. For example, while we enjoy and value the liberties and freedoms assured by our Constitution, we may disagree about how to achieve and sustain them. Such are the challenges and opportunities of free speech provided by the Founding Fathers and protected by many wars. Freedom is not free.

Esther C. Bleuel
MF, MFT, MDR
President and Founder
Esther is dedicated to empowering leaders and teams to improve the quality of their work and interpersonal relationships through the mastery of conversational skills. Contact Esther today for assistance with your tough conversations.

A Search For Common Ground – Part Two: Overcoming Resistance

A Search For Common Ground – Part One: Authentic Discourse

A Search For Common Ground – Part Three: Conversations That Work!

Are you with me or against me? In life, we’re all essentially in the same boat — as humans, as Americans. Are we willing and able to keep our boat afloat? What will it look like — balance, focus, leaning in, pulling together? Or, will we resist, struggle and capsize?

Why should we bother engaging with others who have views, beliefs, values and concerns in opposition to our own? Probably because my side/your side battles will prevent us from growing and thriving. All-or-nothing, black/white, right/wrong positions are extreme and most of life occurs in the gray zones. In fact, we need each other’s ideas and passion to resolve important issues, accomplish goals and effect change, especially in the realm of important social and political issues that impact us all.

So, how can we learn to overcome our resistance to listening to, and actually hearing, what others have to say? Here are a few suggestions:

Assess The Situation
We cannot solve problems or accomplish constructive change if we don’t understand the current situation. In order to do this, we need to obtain accurate information and to acknowledge that creative problem solving involves investigating multiple options.

Start by knowing that everyone thinks they are right, and everyone has their own reasons for their beliefs and behaviors. Telling someone that s/he is wrong and, that you are right is not helpful. Dismiss your self-righteous attitude, be humble for a moment, and seek first to understand the other person’s reasoning before you attack, judge or disagree.

Many politically active people in our country today believe that they are motivated by love and their opponents are motivated by hate. Imagine that your ideology is based on benevolence —you want to help people. Do you truly believe that the other side’s positions are intended to be malicious or destructive? This is common in world conflict — Palestinians and Israelis, Republicans and Democrats, for example.

Separate The Person From The Situation
One of the first rules for dealing with a difficult situation is to separate the person from their words and actions. A decent and intelligent person may hold ideas or beliefs with which we disagree. This does not make them evil or stupid. It means they have a different opinion. Name-calling, denigration and vilification of others is ignorant, rude and cruel. Our society cannot progress when this type of stereotyping, cynicism and judgment prevails and predominates.

Fear Rears Its Ugly Head
Uncertainty and volatility surrounding disagreement and conflict induces fear which causes our defensive behavior patterns to take over: fight (move against others), flight (move away, avoid) or freeze (shut down). This instinctive stimulus occurs so quickly it tends to preempt rational thinking and choice responses. And, when we are afraid, we distance ourselves from others, precluding engagement or cooperation.

What’s In It For Me?
Again, why bother to reach across the aisle, to have a difficult conversation? First, ask yourself, what’s in it for me — to understand, to gain information or insight, to participate in a solution, to show respect for another perspective, to give respect to another person, to “have a vote?” Nobody has all the answers, and collaboration and partnership can unleash creativity and possibilities.

I have several close friends who hold very divergent views from mine on important social and political issues. So, I ask myself, “Why does this smart person seem to believe such a dumb or ridiculous thing?” Since I hold each of them in high regard, I want to understand their perspectives and reasoning. This type of discourse promotes and solidifies respect, trust and lasting relationships.

What about you? I encourage you to be ready, willing and able to overcome your resistance, one conversation or one interaction at a time.

A Search for Common Ground
Part Three: Constructive Conversations will provide specific steps for having conversations instead of adversarial debates by acknowledging and understanding differences in order to discover common ground.

Esther C. Bleuel
MF, MFT, MDR
President and Founder
Esther is dedicated to empowering leaders and teams to improve the quality of their work and interpersonal relationships through the mastery of conversational skills. Contact Esther today for assistance with your tough conversations.

A Search For Common Ground – Part One: Authentic Discourse

A Search For Common Ground – Part Two: Overcoming Resistance

A Search For Common Ground – Part Three: Conversations That Work!

Jacob and Phil wrestled with each other in friendly but intense disagreement about a range of issues: power, government, same-sex marriage, religion, media, morality, race and more. Each often felt misunderstood and couldn’t understand why.

“You’re Not as Crazy as I Thought (But You’re Still Wrong),” written by Phil Neisser and Jacob Hess, presents an engaging look at a conversation that launched a sustained dialogue between Jacob, a professor, and Phil, a nonprofit leader. [Read more…]

Esther C. Bleuel
MF, MFT, MDR
President and Founder
Esther is dedicated to empowering leaders and teams to improve the quality of their work and interpersonal relationships through the mastery of conversational skills. Contact Esther today for assistance with your tough conversations.

Living Brave Interview Series: Brene Brown Interviews Oprah Winfrey

It was Lucille Ball who said, “I’m not funny. I’m brave.” And so she was. It took a lot of courage in those days, especially for a woman, to do all of the wonderfully “nutty” things that she did.

In the first taped episode of her “Living Brave” series, Brene Brown interviews Oprah Winfrey, and courage takes on a very different meaning in a conversation that is fascinating and illuminating. We don’t often get to hear Oprah answering personal questions and sharing fairly intimate details about her life and her “own truth.”

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Brown, whose latest book is Rising Strong, asks Oprah some pointed questions, the first of which is what vulnerability means to her. The answer: “It is being willing to express the truth no matter what — the truth of who you are. The essence at the core of what you are feeling at any given moment. Being able to open up your soul and let it flow so that other people can see their soul in yours.” That’s pretty powerful, I think, and as the interview progressed, I had a glimpse of seeing my soul in Oprah’s.

When asked by Brown to give an example of what she still feels vulnerable about, Winfrey shared that it’s “not having conquered the whole weight struggle — balancing what it means to be a strong powerful woman in the world juxtaposed with trying to control what you are eating.”

Brown and Winfrey talk about stories — those we create about others and those we create about ourselves, or that others create about us and how we deal with them.

When asked about what fear she still struggles with, Winfrey said, “I’ve worked on the disease to please a lot.” Reading and introspection helped Winfrey learn how to live an “intentional life.” She no longer makes decisions unless she thinks about what her true and pure motivation is for doing something. “The intention informs the cause, and the reason for doing the action is what actually is going to show up in your life. It will come back to you.” Winfrey’s example: “I realized I was often doing things for people who kept coming back for more and I didn’t understand it.” It finally became clear that the intention was she wanted to be liked. Wow, does that sound familiar. Yes, folks, even Oprah felt the need to please.

I found this discussion about bravery and courage to be so important for all us to hear and to really think about. I was particularly affected by Winfrey’s answer to the question: “So what do you do if you want to lead a brave life and not disappoint anyone?” Her answer: “You cannot live a brave life without disappointing people.” It does take courage — especially for people pleasers — to make decisions they know are going to disappoint people, but do it anyway to be true to themselves.

The discussion continues with fascinating topics that include the physics of vulnerability, taking falls and rising again, the two “shame tapes” and how to understand that sometimes the world is “reflecting you back to you.” Says Winfrey: “No one is saying anything about you that you haven’t thought about yourself.”

I urge you all to listen to the conversation. It’s powerful, honest and brave. Oprah Winfrey,  Brene Brown, and yes Lucille Ball, have each found the courage to live her truth.

Esther C. Bleuel
MF, MFT, MDR
President and Founder
Esther is dedicated to empowering leaders and teams to improve the quality of their work and interpersonal relationships through the mastery of conversational skills. Contact Esther today for assistance with your tough conversations.