What Do You Really Want: The Mindful Pause

Beginning, or finding ourselves embroiled in a difficult conversation is a challenging experience. In the moment the sensation is often one of breathless survival, even preparing for an encounter can be sleep-losing experience!

Although our energised state lets us believe that we know what we’re doing, we are quite often operating at the survival end of Maslow’s needs. Will we be hurt? Will this situation resolve with our self-esteem intact? Often what we most immediately want to is to get out unhurt. If we do so without getting too bruised we feel an understandable sense of achievement. In order to survive we may be aggressive, defensive, maybe even placatory. Keeping a focus on what we really want may be extremely challenging in this context – many people think it’s impossible! Don’t forget, additional material and a sound and vision version of this article can be found here.

Acknowledge our Feelings

There will be feelings – it may be that you find yourself in confrontation that you hadn’t expected or a difficult meeting that you have been avoiding for months. It is highly likely that you will feel something. Acknowledge that this is happening and give yourself the message that this is understandable and may even be useful.

If it’s just about “winning” then think again

In our distressed state we often mistake our wish to protect ourselves with the urge to get our own back. One phrase that expresses this phenomena is that “hurt people, hurt people”. Chances are that you want a good outcome which maintains good relationships between you and those you have conflict with. Even the mildest amongst us experiences the wish to be triumphant in difficult situations. Work to manage these sensations. In week two of this course we’ll be looking further at how our views and beliefs about other people can impact on how we have difficult conversations.

Asking Yourself – “What are My Best Hopes from this Conversation?”

The Best Hopes question is borrowed from Solution Focus work. This isn’t an airy-fairy question. In the circumstances you are in – the same people, the same demands, the same resources available – how would you know that your contribution to the conversation will have enabled you to (1) say what you wanted to say? (2) listen to the other persons point of you? (3) reach some form of plan or accommodation which will help you in the future? Another great Best Hopes question is, “how will I know that I will be at your best?”

Note this isn’t about changing other people, but does encourage you to think about how you’ll be behaving, talking and thinking in that conversation that will give you the best chance to get what you want.

Say What You Want

Very simply, it is much more useful to work with what you want, rather than what you don’t want. If you find yourself identifying a don’t want, then start to construct what you do want. For example you may want your youngest offspring not to be so messy at home, but communicating “nots” may come across as critical in a way that generates resistance. Also a description of what you do want can help him or her know what would please you. We will be looking at Non Violent Communication later in the course, but if you wanted a quick look now, I have a presentation here.

Building, Continuing and Enhancing Connections

This is of of considerable importance. Difficult Conversations take place, almost always, in the context of a network of interdependent human relationships. Consider the workplace, your family, the street in which you live, your clients or the users of the service you offer. The connections between us are important, help our sense of wellbeing and ability to do our jobs. How we behave whilst Having Difficult Conversations is crucial in the maintenance of these important connections. In fact Difficult Conversations or conflict are the greatest threats to these important connections.

Does what you really want include elements that will help your future relationship? I would suggest that maintaining a focus on a continued relationship is crucial for the overwhelming majority of difficult conversations.

Case study Jenny.

Jenny was delighted to be leaving a job that she had tired of and, in many ways, outgrown. She was preparing for her exit interview with a line manager who she felt had neglected her over the last eighteen months. Jenny was angry and hurt by her boss’s behaviour and was bristling to give her a piece of her mind. Jenny slept little the night before the meeting. On reflecting on the Best Hopes question Jennie decided that she wanted to leave the meeting having told her manager how much she’d appreciated her help in her early days in the role and how she would have liked her boss’s advice more over the last year or so. Jenny also decided that she’d like to ask her boss for some feedback which would help her in her new job.

As the conversation flowed Jennie could see her boss was listening intently to her and decided at that stage to say that she had felt let down by her often being out of the office so often and unavailable. Her manager was initially upset to be told this and had to leave the room briefly. On her return but acknowledged that she had been called to attend to business elsewhere.

Jenny realised the benefit of the continued goodwill with her former manager and how much she could learn from this experience and the meeting ended well with both people feeling that much had been learnt.

Reflective Exercise

Q1 When you have managed a successful difficult conversation – what have you done? What have you been pleased to notice about yourself?
Q2 Think about a difficult conversation in the future

  • What are your feelings about this situation?
  • What are your best hopes for this conversation – an outcome that would be good for you and the others involved?
  • How might you describe to the other parties what you want?

Good luck everyone – please do get in touch should you have any questions of comments – philip@workplace-dynamics.co.uk








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