October 2015

Life Cycle of a Mindful Conversation

Putting It All Together

A mindful conversation goes through many phases in its life cycle.

Over the past 13 months, we've focused on the ingredients of mindful conversations, addressing ways to be mindful, intentional, authentic, flexible, impeccable, compassionate, positive, to thrive instead of simply survive, diminish defensiveness, be curious, courageous, and focused. This month, we'll put it all together and look at phases the conversation goes through in its life cycle. This includes how to do your own self-work, set it up so you do your best to create an environment in which good things can happen, keep it on track through the body of the conversation, and then close it with a GIFT.

As we get up to date on Sally and Donna, we'll look at how their conversations move through the life cycle or go off track.

We left Sally after a meeting with her boss, Tom, in which she turned down his offer to take leadership training courses. Thinking that he was blaming her lack of leadership skills for the problems she was experiencing, she felt insulted by his offer and made a beeline for the door. Tom asked her again if she was willing to speak with another employee who had entered the company at the same time she had. Though she thought it useless and a waste of time, she relented and agreed to the meeting. She was in the lobby with Tom, ready to walk out for good, when a lovely woman approached and greeted Tom. Sally recognized her as someone whom she had seen in the halls and the cafeteria.

After simple introductions, Tom left the two women to talk...

Sally: “I don't have any idea why Tom wants us to speak together! I just told him I'm quitting. I can't imagine what he hopes you'll say to me that might get me to change my mind.”

Donna: To herself: Wow. This woman is intense. I'm glad Lorin gave me some intel about her. I'm going to have to use everything I know just to maintain my calm. To Sally: “I don't know what Tom hoped I would say, Sally. But rather than focus on what Tom might want, I'd like to hear about your experience. Would you like to sit here or go to the cafeteria for coffee?”

Sally: “Let's just sit here.”

Sally and Donna sit on two comfortable chairs facing each other.

Sally continues: “I'd prefer not to see anyone right now. If you want to hear about my experience, well, I can give you an earful. It's been absolutely horrible. This place is nuts. I don't see how you can work here. You look like a sane person.”

Donna: “What happened to you that was so horrible, Sally?”

Sally: “For starters, no one was the least bit interested in my previous accomplishments. It was as if this is the only place that matters at all. No one respected me. They treated me as if I were their peer, not their supervisor. They didn't give me sufficient material before I went into a meeting, so they left me to hang out to dry. They were so sappy and nice, I didn't trust them. It was them against me. I didn't have a chance, really. I can't imagine anyone making it on that team.”

Donna: “Wow. You paint a pretty unwelcoming picture. If that's how it seemed to you, no wonder you're leaving. Did you ever speak with your team about these issues?”

Sally: “What could they possibly have said? I'm sure it would have been the same all over the place. Can you imagine anything different? Who in their right mind would tell their boss that they didn't respect her?! You sound like Tom.”

Donna: “Well, in my experience, a lot of times there's just miscommunication. People make assumptions based on data. The data is accurate but the interpretations of the data are not. Perhaps that's what happened here, at least in some of the cases.”

Sally is listening carefully to Donna. She cocks her head and pulls her neck back, then says, “Wow. If I'm misinterpreting them that much, I'm more out of it than I think. These things didn't happen only once. They happened over the last several months that I've been here. I really tried. I just don't think they ever accepted me. I don't think that they wanted to. Really.”

Donna squeezes her lips together and nods knowingly, then she says, “You and I don't know each other, but you sound a lot like I used to sound. I doubted people's intentions and I never thought I was good enough. I didn't realize how insecure I really was until I started learning about authenticity and defensiveness. It really turned me around. Now, I notice that I start doubting people, but I'm able to leave my survival fears aside and get into a thrive state. I feel so much better and everything is working better around me too.”

While Donna speaks, Sally starts shaking her head from side to side. “You sound just like Tom. You drank the Kool-Aid too. This whole place is nuts. Thanks, but no thanks.”

Sally gets up to go. Donna stands up and says, “Sally, if you ever get curious and want to speak together more, here's my card. We can share more over a drink if you want. If what I did was drink the Kool-Aid, well, that's okay then. I would do it again. I'm happier than I've ever been before. My team is doing phenomenal work. My husband and children and I are happier. It's not a bad perspective change, I can tell you that. Anyway, I'm glad we met and had a few minutes together. Let me know if and when you want to get together.”

Sally extends her arm, shakes Donna's hand, and says, “Thanks. I wouldn't hold your breath.”

With that, Sally turns on her heel and walks out the door.

Donna watches Sally walk to her car, shaking her head and grimacing. Then she walks up to Tom's office and sees the door open. As she approaches the door, Tom looks up and welcomes her in.

“Well? What happened?” Tom asks.

Looking at these two women's interaction through the lens of phases of a mindful conversation, it seems clear that Sally had done no pre-work and perhaps Donna had engaged in it a little bit.

Sally dove right into the body of the conversation without any setup. Donna took a moment to set the stage in terms of creating an environment that was a bit more conducive than standing in the lobby.

Throughout their short conversation, Donna gets curious, connects with empathy, and then brings in her experience, all while staying focused on what she could learn about Sally, her experience, and her perspective. Sally listens to Donna's words but does not seem that interested in really understanding what Donna means.

Finally, frustrated, Sally ends the conversation abruptly, without any wrap up. Donna does a bit of a wrap and extends herself to Sally.

It's clear that the two women did not connect in any meaningful way.

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