If we think of an important conversation like a road trip, the phases would match up like this:
Phase 1: Preparatory
Do you want to take a road trip? If the answer is yes, Where will you go? What is your ideal itinerary? Will you have a detailed itinerary or get in the car and go where the wind takes you? When do you want to return? Will you travel the same road or make a loop?
Once you've decided yes, where to go, how detailed an itinerary to create, then phase 2 begins.
Phase 2: The Set Up
The set up phase entails packing, getting the car checked out to make sure it is road ready, getting any reservations for lodging, getting maps or having GPS capability, finding someone to take your garbage in if no one will be at your house, etc.
Then, finally, the day comes and you pack the car.
Phase 3: The trip has begun
This third phase, the road trip itself, is the body of the conversation. Staying with the analogy for a moment, the trip will be fun and successful if we stay focused on the end in mind. That is, if we have decided that the most important aspect of the trip is having fun and being relaxed, and we have planned in a way that will allow us to go at an easy pace. Whenever we begin to go off course and begin to feel stressed, we re-calibrate and make decisions that will get us back to point easily. Similarly, if our goal is to travel a certain number of miles each day so that we arrive at a specific destination, we pace ourselves accordingly and limit the number of side trips, unless, of course, we have accounted for them in our planning.
To shift to conversations, some of the skills required for having a great conversation during this phase include:
- Expressing yourself clearly, self-responsibly, authentically, and non-defensively, with compassion and self-compassion, and with positive intent.
- Listening deeply; using curiosity, building an empathic bridge, building rapport and connection, seeking to understand rather than building your position; being open to feel resonance and possibly being changed by the other.
- Resolving or dissolving conflicts is crucial to this phase of a conversation. When conflicts arise, rather than relying on the survival (defense) strategy you developed as a young child in your family of origin, this requires the ability to speak and listen to each other, increasing your understanding of yourself and the other, appreciating the other's position, and then seeking alternative options that serve each of you and the whole, remembering that relationships are like a three-legged stool—there is your leg, the other's leg, and the third leg is the relationship leg. Each of the three legs have to be attended to for the stool to be balanced and sturdy.
- Appreciating differences so that you both feel enriched at the end of the conversation rather than in an argument. If you keep feeling the need to have someone be just like you, it is important to look inward and examine what you might be afraid of. It is usually fears about ourselves that drive us to attempt to make other people be just like us. We think that if the other is different, it must mean that we aren't okay in some way. A much easier and more fulfilling road to travel emerges where we realize that the heterogeneity is enriching, and the challenge then becomes finding a solution that we can all live with and supports us all to thrive.
- Feeling and expressing empathy is crucial in any conversation. If you, the other, feel as if you are being heard, seen, and understood, you are much more likely to want to listen to me. The moment you think that I am all about me and not interested in you, we are going to careen off the cliff. Empathy connects us. It lets us both know that the other person has a sense of what we are experiencing. Just knowing that is reassuring, reminds us of the other's good intentions, we feel connected, and we are more able to look for positive solutions that serve us both.
- Short and long term implications of potential decisions are undervalued. So often, especially in conflict situations, people just want to find something that will relieve them of the pain they are experiencing. However, as you get facile at having these important conversations, you find that it is worthwhile to pause and consider how your 'solution' will impact each of you, the relationship, and the project (if that is relevant) in the present, the near future, and the long-term future. Of course, some of this is conjecture since no one has a crystal ball. We can only do our best, using as much self-awareness as possible, to imagine how we might feel if certain variables occur.
- Remember to ask for what you want and express what you don't want. Being shy about expressing some of the basic ingredients of a good conversation will not serve you. The more you are both clear about expectations, the more likely it will be that you stay on the road.
- Keep yourself in the present moment while having the end in mind. This is a great way to stay focused on what is most important to you and will almost guarantee that you will feel successful at the end of your conversation. Being able to stay focused without being rigid is crucial to having a great conversation that helps you get back on a positive trajectory.
- You create and/or increase trust by using these Mindful Conversation® principles. The greater the trust, the more likely you will be to have an open and productive conversation.
As usual, explore and experiment with this approach and write in with your small and large successes as well as your challenges and bloopers.