A big talk within your family might be talking to your teenager about his desire to break up with his girlfriend or discussing a failing grade in school. It could be talking about moving or the death of a relative. It could be about drug use or a recent divorce or fears around school shootings. You may have big conversations at work about job performance, hiring, or letting someone go.
According to Crucial Conversations, when “stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions start to run strong, casual conversations become crucial”. These are the conversations that you truly want to go well. These are the ones where you want to be creative, kind, understanding, and loving. These are the ones where you desire closeness and connection – the conversations that you remember and feel great about.
Our tendency in unwanted situations is to go to our favorite protection – shutting down, getting mad, over powering or choosing force over choice, withdrawing, caving in, or any of the many other ways of closing down our heart. Being vulnerable during big talks is the way to achieve closeness and creative resolutions at the same time. There are ways to remain openhearted while in the midst of a crucial conversation, and they may all require practice. Here is how to begin!
Be clear on your intention. Your intention for the conversation will serve as your rudder for remaining on course or for getting back on course if you veer towards over powering or pressuring others. If you find yourself operating from any of those protections mentioned above, remind yourself of your intention. A great way to set an intention prior to the conversation is to ask yourself what you truly desire. What is the outcome you wish to achieve for you as well as for others?
Be Aware of Your Tone of Voice. Your tone will be the first clue that you are off course. Your tone can generate highly undesired results. Irritation, frustration, disappointment, anger, stress, or disgust expressed through your tone can be terribly interruptive to any conversation and especially to a crucial one. Be aware of your tone so that you can then remind yourself of your intention and get back on track. If you are way off the rails, taking a break to regain your composure or re-center yourself can be a helpful choice.
Create Safety and Mutual Purpose. By making the goals and desires of others as important as your own and by being in service to the purpose of the conversation, you can wrap everyone involved in safety.
One way to create safety is to look for where you agree. That may initially take some deep searching, and there are areas of agreement to be found. A man said to his spouse, “Let’s take a vacation and go camping.” His wife, who highly disliked camping, could have said, “You always want to go camping, and you know that I hate it.” That would have been an immediate conversation stopper and probably an argument starter! Instead, she said, “Oh, I love the idea of going on a vacation! Let’s brainstorm all of the places we can go in the time we have available and see which one sounds great for both of us!”
Step into your authority. Pamela Dunn writes in her book It’s Time to Look Inside: To See Yourself and Everyone Through the Lens of Magnificence, “We are our own authority in that we are fully accountable for all of the consequences of our decision and actions. We are our own authority in that we choose how we express ourselves through what we do, how we feel about what we do, and how we feel about what others do. Being your own authority translates into being fully accountable to all of the consequences of your decisions and actions – the perceived bad and good. Being your own authority means that you behave and express yourself with the attitude of everything I do, think, and feel in every moment of my life is my choice. Even when what is happening in a given situation is beyond your control, you still have the ability to choose how you will respond to the situation.”
Know that you are your own authority, even during big talks. If this is an issue or trigger for you, seek coaching to discover how to step into your authority. This doesn’t mean you become an authority figure. It means you enjoy and accept responsibility and accountability.
Commit to the conversation. If things get off track, which they may, do not see that as an excuse to leave or abandon the conversation. Remind yourself of your intention. Commitment is the bridge that connects you to safety and greater purpose. Continue to re-commit!
In big conversations feelings may be strong. Feelings are meant to be felt. Feel them. Take a break if anyone needs to get back in balance.
In big conversations, opinions may differ. You are much more than your opinions. Move beyond opinions to the higher purpose, all the while looking for where you agree.
In big conversations, stakes are high. There is always a third alternative in all situations, even those in which the stakes are high. Being vulnerable and present will allow you to creatively see multiple solutions. If you or anyone else is locked into black and white solutions, it is time to breath, remind yourself of your intention, and begin again.
Whatever the decision, you can make it the best one you have all ever made!