Have you ever found yourself in the middle of an argument not really sure how things turned so quickly and not sure how it started?
As a fitness coach I’ve had my share of difficult conversations with members whether it be helping them make a lifestyle change or believing they can finish a particular workout. As personal trainers we wear many hats but first and foremost we are coaches. We are coaching athletes who are trying to get stronger, move better, build muscle, and lose body fat. But athletes are human, and therefore subject to emotion that comes with being human. Trainers must use tact, patience, critical thinking and good judgment to empower clients as well as limit misunderstandings or communication breakdowns that may occur. We cannot control how the other person feels in regard to our message. We can only control how WE respond.
I recently read the book Crucial Conversations. This book was recommended to me as a valuable resource for trainers and coaches communicating with clients or anyone in any type of relationship. The book deals with communication skills or rather how to communicate when we are in the middle of a tough conversation.
The book defines crucial conversations by three objects. Stakes are high. The outcome of this situation is important to you. Opinions differ. You and the person you are in dialogue with have very different opinions on how things should be handheld. Emotions are strong. You and/or the other person are emotionally invested in the conversations and its outcome. Some examples of crucial conversations could be you and your spouse discussing a budget, or confronting a roommate about his/her cleaning habits or lack thereof, or (for all the personal trainers out there) discussing a clients lifestyle choices and showing them steps to make change.
Not all conversations start out as crucial. You could be asking your son or daughter to clean their room and suddenly they snap at you. The way you react to this will have very different results. Many times conversations turn crucial because bc we get defensive.
Humans are hardwired to Fight or flight when we feel threatened. The book calls this a Turn to silence or violence. With silence we are running away or avoiding the problem. Or we go along with what the other person is saying just bc we don’t want to make waves even though we are secretly not on board with the decision. Turning to violence means insulting the other persons character, using sarcasm, using abstract tactics to discredit the persons ideas such as saying someones ideas are Neanderthal.
It is important to Stay in dialogue with the other person. Staying in dialogue means trying to understand where they are coming from and trying to get them to understand where you are coming from. Then making a decision based on your collective understanding that you can both live with.
There are 7 principals associated with staying in dialogue when you find yourself in a crucial conversation.
1) Start with the heart
When emotions are high there is a results that is driving the conversation. It is important to focus on what you want as opposed to winning the argument. What do you want out of this conversation? I want us to come to agreement where both parties are happy with the decision. What for others? I want this person to adopt one healthy habit in their chaotic lifestyle. For the relationship? I want this person to trust me and know that I am trying to help. When people become defensive it can be hard to resist the urge to turn to violence, especially if they are already behaving in this way. It’s important to ask yourself the questions above and also ask yourself How should I behave to get what I want? What do I not want? I do not want this person to leave feeling ashamed or going along with something they think they can not accomplish just because they didn’t want to speak up.
2) Learn to look
Learning to look for signs of someone else or yourself turning to violence is probably the most important take away from the book. Simply being aware of when a conversation has become unsafe is the key to deciding the outcome. look for when others or yourself are Turning to silence or violence and take a step back and bring the conversation back to dialogue. You can not control what the other person is feeling or how the perceive the conversation. You can only control your own emotions and your own flow of meaning.
3) Make it safe
When stakes are high and emotions are high you are bound to experience periods where you find yourself out of dialogue. It is important to Apologize if needed. If you made an error in understanding the other person or if you find yourself resulting to violence make the apology and reestablish dialogue. If you don’t feel you need to apologies use If someone misunderstands your intent or message contrast by saying “I don’t want you avoid hanging out with your friends. I do want to discuss strategies on how we can reach your goals by making good choices when you are around them.” When bringing the convo back to dialogue it is important to Establish mutual purpose. Ask yourself Why is safety at risk? Why is this person becoming defensive? How can I establish mutual purpose? Am I establishing mutual respect? Remember to start with the heart. What is it you are trying to get from this conversation? Why is it important to you? If most people think you genuinely care about their well being and the well being of the relationship and you can demonstrate you respect them and their opinions they will return to dialogue.
4) Master my stories
We all have stories we tell ourselves. We have stories about who we are, what the world is, who are loved ones are. When you find yourself in a crucial conversation ask yourself What is my story? Be aware of 3 stories we tend to tell ourselves when things don’t go our way and we can’t accept blame. Victim stories, saying we have been victimized by another person, the world or fate, and this is has caused our suffering. Villain stories, unjustly making someone out to be the bad guy “my boss is a racist, my parents don’t understand me.” These are often related to the victim stories. And finally helpless stories, thinking you are powerless to make changes and the world is against you. Retrace the path that led you here and separate the facts of the situation from the emotions in the story. Then retell the story why would a reasonable rational good person do this? What should I do to get what I want?
5) State my path
Share facts and Tell the real story. Ask others what their path might be. How do they see the situation? Talk tentatively with your opinions. “Speak with confidence and humility not with absolutes or overstated term.” Use statements such as “I was wondering why you chose this” or “it seems to me there is a lack of planning here, do I have that correct.” Encourage others to test what you are saying. Ask if the plan laid out works for all parties. Ask yourself Am I really openly talking about the real issue?
6) Explore others path
Find out why someone has done what they did. Ask them straightforward what made them chose the specific action. Mirroring is used when someone is being sarcastic or withdrawing from a situation. Use statements such as “are you sure this works? From the way you are acting you do not seem to happy about the outcome.” Paraphrase, simply rephrase what they are saying. This builds additional safety and understanding. Prime sometimes when a situation is really difficult you will need to prime the other person. This can be riskier because you are guessing what the other person is meaning to say but it will give insight into thir path of action and help build safety. When exploring others path to action ask yourself Am I avoiding unnecessary disagreements? Find some area to agree. There should be some similar motive to agree on, then build and add information from there. In the end if you still disagree don’t say the other person is wrong rather compare the similarities.
7) Move to action
At some point the dialogue will need to turn to action, if not no result can be reached. Decide how things will happen and document this. If it is not written down there is no proof that it happened. Decide What happens? When? Who does What? And How do you follow up? Following up is a key step is deciding if the actions will work to complete the plan.
I would highly recommend the book crucial conversations to anyone who works on a team or anyone working in the health and human service field. We all come from different backgrounds and must deal with people who see things differently than us. These interactions occur on a day to day basis. This book will help you not only help you focus on what you want when you disagree but also help build the relationship. All human interactions are opportunities to build a relationship.