“Crucial Conversations” – Explore others’ paths

While is true that you can’t force others to dialogue, you can take steps to make it safer for them to do so. After all, that’s why they’ve sought the security of silence or violence in the first place. They’re afraid that dialogue will make them vulnerable. Somehow they believe that if they engage in real conversation with you, bad things will happen to them.

Whenever you notice safety is at risk, you should step out of the conversation and restore it. When you have offended others through a thoughtless act, apologize. Or if someone has misunderstood your intent, use Contrasting. Explain what you do and don’t intend. Finally, if you’re simply at odds, find a Mutual Purpose.

When we want to hear from others, the best way to get at the truth is by making it safe for them to express the stories that are moving them to either silence or violence. This means that at the very moment when most people become furious, we need to become curious. Rather than respond in kind, we need to wonder what’s behind the ruckus.
The cure to silence or violence isn’t to respond in kind, but to get at the underlying source. This calls for genuine curiosity – at a time when you’re likely to be feeling frustrated or angry.
To help turn your visceral tendency to respond in kind into genuine curiosity, look for opportunities to be curious. Start with a situation where you observe someone becoming emotional and you’re still under control – such as a meeting. Do your best to get at the person’ source of fear or anger. Look for chances to turn on your curiosity rather than kick-start your adrenaline.

While it’s natural to move quickly from one though to the next, strong emotions take a while to subside. Once the chemicals that fuel emotions are released, they hand around in the bloodstream for a time. So be patient when exploring how others think and feel. Encourage them to share their path and then wait for their emotions to catch up with the safety that you’ve created.

Encourage others to retrace their Path to Action

Unfortunately, most of us fail to do so. That’s because when others start playing silence or violence games, we’re joining the conversation at the end of their Path to Action. They’ve seen and heard things, told themselves a story or two, generated a feeling (possibly a mix of fear and anger or disappointment), and now they’re starting to act out their story. That’s where we come in. Now, even through we may be hearing their first words, we’re coming in somewhere near the end of their path. On the Path to Action mode, we’re seeing the action at the end of the path:

Path to Action

Break the cycle – when we’re on the receiving end of someone’s retributions, accusation and cheap shots we match this unhealthy behavior. Our genetically shaped, eons-old defense mechanisms kick in, and we create our own hasty and ugly Path to Action.
People who know better cut this dangerous cycle by stepping out of the interaction and making it safe for the other person to talk about his or her Path to Action. They perform this feat by encouraging him or her to move away from harsh feeling and knee-jerk reaction and toward the root cause. In essence, they retrace the other person’s Path to Action together. At their encouragement, the other person moves from his or her emotions, to what he or she concluded, to what he or she observed.

Inquiry skills

In order for people to move from acting on their feelings to talking about heir conclusions and observations, we must listen in a way that makes it safe for others to share their intimate thoughts. They must believe that when they share their thoughts, they won’t offend others or be punished for speaking frankly. Luckily, the tools work for both silence and violence games.

Ask, Mirror, Paraphrase, or Prime (AMPP)

  • Ask to get things rolling
    • Often all it takes to break an impasse is to seek to understand others’ view. When we show genuine interest, people feel less compelled to use silence or violence.
      Common invitations include:
      What’s going on?
      I’d really like to hear your opinion on this.
      Please let me know if you see it differently.
      Don’t worry about hurting my feelings. I really want to hear your thoughts.
  • Mirror to confirm feelings
    • As the name suggests, we play the role of mirror by describing how they look or act. Although we may not understand others’ stories or facts, we can see their actions and reflect them back.
      Mirroring is most useful when another person’s tone of voice or gestures (hints about the emotions behind them) are inconsistent with his or her words. We explain that while the person may be saying one thing, his or her tone of voice or body posture suggests something else. In doing so, by staying with the observed actions, we show both respect and concern for him or her.
      Example of mirror include:
      You say you’re okay, but by the tone of your voice, you seem upset.
      You seem angry at me.
      You look nervous about confronting him. Are you sure you’re willing to do it?
  • Paraphrase to acknowledge the story
    • Asking and mirroring may help you get part of the other person’s story out into the open. When you get a clue about why the person is feeling as he or she does, you can build additional safety by paraphrasing what you’ve heard. Be careful not to simply parrot back what was said. Instead, put the message in your own words – usually in an abbreviated form.
      To encourage the person to share, we’ve tried 3 listening tools: asking, mirroring and paraphrasing. The person is still upset, but isn’t explaining his or her stories or facts. At this point, we may want to back off. If we push too hard, we violate both purpose and respect. We either gracefully exit or ask what he or she wants to see happen.
  • Prime when you’re getting nowhere
    • Sometimes we have to offer our best guess at what the other person is thinking or feeling before you can expect him or her to do the same. You have to pour meaning into the pool before the other person will respond in kind.

Remember you ABCs

Let’s say you did your level best to make it safe for the other person to talk. After asking, mirroring, paraphrasing, and eventually priming, the other person opened up and share his or her path. It’s now your turn to talk. But what if you disagree? Some of the other person’s facts are wrong, and his or her stories are completely fouled up. Well, at least they’re a lot different from the story you’ve been telling. Now what?

  • Agree
    • Most arguments consist of battles over the 5 to 10 percent of the facts and stories that people disagree over. And while it’s true that people eventually need to work through differences, you shouldn’t start there. Start with an area of agreement.
  • Build
    • The reason most of us turn agreements into debates is because we disagree with a certain portion of what the other person has said. Never mind that it’s minor portion. When the other person has merely left out an element of the argument, skilled people will agree and then build. Rather than saying: “Wrong. You forgot to mention…” they say “Absolutely. In addition, I noticed that…”.
      If you agree with what has been said but the information is incomplete, build. Point out area of agreement, and then add elements that were left out of the discussion.
  • Compare
    • If you do disagree, compare you path with the other person’s. That is, rather than suggesting that he or she is wrong, suggest that you differ. He or she may, in fact, be wrong but you don’t know for sure until you hear both sides of the story. For now, you just know that the two of you differ. So instead of pronouncing “Wrong!” start with a tentative but candid opening, such as “I think I see things differently. Let me describe how.”
      Then share your path using the STATE skills. Begin by sharing your observations. Share them tentatively, and invite others to test your ideas. After you’ve shared your path, invite the other person to help you compare it with his or her experience. Work together to explore and explain the differences.

To encourage the free flow of meaning and help others leave silence or violence behind, explore their Paths to Action. Start with an attitude of curiosity and patience. This helps restore safety. Then, use 4 powerful listening skills to retrace the other person’s Path to Action to its origins.

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