Leadership Commitment #9: I keep my conversation aligned with my intention.
Leadership commitment number nine tells me that I must keep my conversation aligned with my intention. This statement may sound a little confusing until I get clarity about what my intention is. In communication there are basically two intentions, to be right, or to build relationship. Whenever I find myself in a communication conflict, I have to ask myself what I want as my outcome in the conversation and in this relationship. If it is to be right, then I will utilize lots of justification and explanation. I will be attempting to convert the person I am talking to, to my position or opinion. If it is to develop a deeper, more meaningful relationship then I will be focusing my attention on listening to what that person is saying and validating their position and their feelings. That does not mean that I will always agree with them, however, it means that I will treat them with the upmost respect and make every effort to create common ground in the conversation.
Playing I’m Right or Defending Myself is a Victim Position
Often, when I am defending myself and my position it comes out of a place of fear and insecurity. In communication conflict it is easy to think that my value is being questioned by the person I am in conflict with. This brings up thoughts of not being good enough and triggers feelings of inadequacy. When I experience these thoughts and feelings I retreat into being the victim.
Proving that my position is the right position is an attempt to bolster my ego and restore my sense of value. Deep down I am convinced if the person I am in conflict with can see that what I am saying is the right and true perspective then they will congratulate me on my brilliance and ask me what we can do to resolve the problem.
I know that I have spiraled into the victim position when I need to immediately explain myself or justify my behavior. In that moment, I have stopped listening and am formulating a defense. Usually an important part of that defense is to focus on what the other person has done or said that caused me to respond the way that I did. In effect, I am blaming them for my behavior. I really had no choice but to do what I did in response to what they did.
Once I am in this victim state there is absolutely no where to go in the conversation or the relationship. It becomes a waiting game for the other person somehow to cave in and apologize for where we have gotten in the relationship.
Focus on Building the Relationship
Intention number two focuses on building the relationship and developing the connection I want with the person I am in relationship with. Healthy communication skills are essential to building relationship and resolving conflict.
When I find myself in conflict, I need to immediately to ask myself what my intention is. I have to ask myself what I really want in this relationship. If it is a deep, meaningful relationship, then I have to ask myself if my conversation is in keeping with that intention.
A Strategy for Resolving Conflict
- Listen, Don’t React
When I feel triggered and immediately want to defend myself, I need to stop myself from saying anything. My emotional discomfort tells me that I have been triggered and I can pretty much guarantee that my sense of personal value has been questioned or measured. Usually, I am the one questioning or measuring my value more than the person I am talking to.
- Ask Questions, Don’t Make Statements
When I feel triggered, it is important that I find some clarity and understanding about why I am feeling so triggered. The best way to do this is to ask questions rather than make statements. The less talking I do in that moment, the more I can settle my reaction and manage my emotions. I will ask questions like; tell me more or what do you mean by that?
Probably the most important question I can ask someone that I am in conflict with is; what do you want? If I can clearly identify what my partner wants in that moment I can move the conflict toward resolution.
Once I have heard what my partner wants, I need to be sure I heard them correctly. That is when I go to, what I hear you say. That phrase is a shorter version of a more conversational phrase like; so, what I heard you say is…is that right? If they say yes, I can move on to the next step. If they say that I did not quite get it right, then I will ask them to say it again. It is essential to give a person back their words because each person’s words have special meaning to them. It is important that I do not interpret what they say into my own language.
- Action Steps
- What I am willing to do
It is important that I take the lead as I seek to resolve this conflict. I want to acknowledge that I can only change what I am doing if I seek to change the outcome we are experiencing.
- What I want from you
Once I have expressed what I am willing to do to address what my partner wants, then I will tell them what I want from them. In this way we are both actively involved in overcoming the conflict and building the relationship.
I think it would be helpful to provide an example that utilizes these steps. This example is based on an actual conversation.
I heard a story recently of how a woman wanted to find ways for her partner and her to engage more often in meaningful conversation. She asked her partner to spend time sitting at the kitchen counter, having a glass of wine and talking to her while she prepared dinner. This meant that the man would have to turn a hockey game off and come sit with her.
His response was to say that he wanted to watch the hockey game; however, he would clean the dishes after dinner. He considered this his act of love and essentially believed it was a reasonable trade off for her request. She did not respond well to his solution and it became an ongoing source of conflict for the couple.
How could this have gone differently?
Partner A: Would you mind turning the hockey game off and come talk to me? How about grabbing a glass of wine for you and me and we can chat about our day while I prepare dinner.
Partner B: What do you want to talk about?
Partner A: Well, I would like to hear about your day. And, I would like to hear how you are doing. We are often so busy that we do not take the time to have a meaningful conversation. I want to feel close to you.
Partner B: So, you want to have a meaningful conversation with me so that you feel close to me.
Partner A: Yes, that is what I want.
Partner B: Well; here’s what I am willing to do. I am going to record the hockey game and after we talk and have dinner together I am going to watch the game.
I know it is a simple, maybe idealistic example of what is possible, however, if there are more conversations like this one, I guarantee there would be far less conflict in relationship. If your intention is right, your conversation will reflect it.