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.

Impasse: A Problem Or An Opportunity?

If you have ever played chess, checkers or dominos, you have experienced a stalemate — when neither player can successfully move any of the pieces and neither player can win. Aggravating!

Imagine two large trucks trying to pass on a narrow road. Standstill!

Watch the news and you will hear numerous examples of two politicians unable to reach agreement on a policy. Deadlock!

 

Another word for all of these is Impasse, which in business is essentially resistance to any workable solution — a clenched state of mind that can stifle creativity and any kind of breakthrough.

Because nothing can move forward, an impasse can be costly. Representing a failure of the ability to reach a settlement, it usually provokes anger.

There are many reasons for a stalemate, which can be caused by constraints of time, authority, scarce resources, personality styles and clashes of values as well as external factors such as politics, economics or health conflicts.

Often, impasse is a result of unmet interests (why someone wants what they want) or emotional barriers to resolution. It may simply mean that someone is not yet convinced, or there’s not enough information. Maybe it’s refusal, a threat, a dare or a bluff. Whatever the cause, it stops things dead in their tracks! The price can be high, so I offer a few tips to either prevent or break through an impasse.

Perspective taking is key

  • See the situation from all sides; go to “the balcony.”
  • Stand in the other person’s shoes.
  • What’s next? Why is that important — to you and to the other person?
  • What’s the primary outcome you desire? Define the qualities of an acceptable outcome.
  • Parties need a legitimate reason to move or change their position (what each person wants).

Tools for breaking impasse

  • Take a break; stop thinking about the problem.
  • Slow down the process; don’t press for an answer.
  • Welcome creative and unconventional ideas.

Showers and early morning mind wanderings are good.

  • Set the issue aside temporarily.
  • See the forest and the trees.
  • Focus on the future, perhaps a year from now.
  • Describe your fears of breaking the impasse, or of staying deadlocked.

There may be a legitimate reason for the impasse. But, it’s not necessarily a block to problem solving. Think of it as an opportunity for a creative solution to a vexing problem. Lean into the process and be receptive to new and unusual ideas.

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.

Clear, Credible Communication

Would you choose to build your house on sand or on a rock? Since sand shifts and erodes, it’s clearly the rock that would provide a solid and predictable foundation.

Building on a rock won’t eliminate issues such as wind, rain and storms, but in most cases, your well-built house will withstand the elements.

In much the same way, a relationship based on a foundation of trust and consistency can also withstand and recover from storms of misunderstandings, disagreements and confusion.

Because mind reading is not possible, we need to rely on and learn how to communicate clearly and concisely with words and actions that are congruent and devoid of discrepancies or conflicting messages.

Also critical to a clear message that gains trust is the alignment of words, non-verbal cues and actions. Said another way — Do what you say! Trust, respect and credibility are earned by consistent congruence between words and actions over time.

All too often, however, what you communicate to someone is not necessarily what they “hear.” While you may know what you meant, the other person may have understood something different. It is, therefore, incumbent upon you to verify that a listener received your intended meaning. And, the best way to do that? Ask the listener to restate what they understood in their own words.

Sad to say, most of us do not confirm our understanding of messages. Rather, we often tend to assume shared meanings of words and an approximation of the information conveyed.

Understanding is the purpose of communication! And so, the speaker and listener should mutually engage to reach common ground as a basis for discussion. Agreement is not required, but acknowledgment of another’s perspective is.

A little negotiating may be needed in order for each person to be clear about the essence of the issue or the topic, the objective facts, or even the purpose of the talk. The main thing is to keep the main thing as the main thing — have only one conversation at a time. Stay focused and on track. An attitude of openness, good will and a desire to learn is needed for successful communication.

Tips for rock-solid communication

  1. Talk about one issue at a time.
  2. Be clear about the specific outcome you seek.
  3. As a listener, paraphrase the speaker’s message.
  4. As a speaker, ask what meaning has been understood.
  5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
  6. When things don’t add up, clarify.
  7. Notice whether non-verbal cues match words.
  8. Be present; give your complete attention.
  9. Do not react; think before you respond.
  10. Be honest. Be authentic. Be yourself.

A sign on an office door in a neighborhood church reads,

For anyone who has children and doesn’t know it, there is a childcare center on the first floor.

You see the problem? Even though this sign is kind of funny, the message is not clear and does not inspire confidence.

As a speaker, be clear about your meaning. Then, stand in the listener’s shoes to imagine how your message will be received.

Build your relationships on a solid foundation of clear, credible communication that will earn trust — a priceless commodity.

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.

Leaders: Listen Up!

 

Leaders: Listen Up!

As a leader, you must know yourself well — your purpose, your values, your priorities. Others will follow when you earn their respect and trust and one of the most effective ways to do that is to listen — to really listen to others when they speak to you.

curiosity

Listen Deeply

Listening to others deeply to understand the meaning of what they are saying conveys respect and regard. It also helps to create a powerful interpersonal connection that is so important to a leader.

Understand the Meaning of What is Being Said

A person who is speaking is the only one who really knows what he or she is trying to convey. If that person is forthcoming and open, a listener has an excellent opportunity to learn about that person. By creating a safe emotional space for that exchange, the listener also allows connection and trust to develop. An attentive listener will also be on the lookout for non-verbal communication because meaning is not always clearly articulated with words.  [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.

Talks At The End Of Life (Conversations No One Wants To Have)

 

Talks At The End Of Life (Conversations No One Wants To Have)

Someone you care for is at the end of his or her life. How do we talk with someone who is dying? No one is ever really prepared for conversations near the end of life. What do we say and how do we say it? These are very important talks for both the living and the dying.

 

Reasonable Expectations

Our own emotional vulnerability makes it difficult to find the right words and to avoid awkward displays of grief. While it is not our role to create meaningful moments of conversation, we can bring comfort to the dying person by recognizing and respecting their attitudes and feelings. [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.