Are you looking to resolve relationship conflict and improve the quality of your relationship? Does it take longer than it should to get a task accomplished because the people you are working with don’t trust your intentions? Do you long to experience intimacy and connection in your current relationships? Practicing courageous conversations can address all these relationship problems allowing you to create the intimacy, trust, and cooperation necessary for quality relationships.
Relationships are an important determinate of the quality of our lives. The quality of our relationships predicts our health and mortality. The quality of our relationships with our co-workers determines our productivity and effectiveness. Thus, if we want to improve our health, career, and quality of life, we can begin by improving our relationships.
I’d like to share with you a secret to immediately improving all relationships in your life. You can use this technique to improve any relationship that is important to you. Your relationship with your children. Your romantic partner. Colleagues and business associates. Family and friends. Better yet, you can start this today and it’s totally free. Ready?
The best way to improve your relationship is to improve the quality of your conversations.
Why Courageous Conversations Resolve Relationship Conflict
The quality of your conversations determine the quality of your relationship. Superficial and conflict-laden relationships are filled with small talk and one-sided conversations. There is little revealing and sharing of the true self because the person does not feel it is safe to do so. Cooperative relationships are built on trust and need openness and a willingness to truly see the other person. Emotional intelligence, vulnerability, and courage are necessary for effective communication. This is what I call a “courageous conversation”.
Courageous conversations build trust, cooperation, and intimacy within our relationships. Most people in our culture do not practice courageous conversations. But, this communication style is seen among great leaders and people who have high quality relationships. I’ve listed below the structure of a courageous conversation to help you practice this skill in your relationships.
Anatomy of a Courageous Conversation
Courageous conversations consist of five distinct parts. 4/5 of a courageous conversation involves listening to yourself and the other person. Only 1/5 of the conversation is actually about speaking. Too often we get this ratio backwards and focus more on speaking than listening. To have a conversation that really builds trust, intimacy, and cooperation, the primary focus needs to be listening.
Own your story.
A courageous conversation first begins with listening to yourself. What are the stories you believe about yourself, the other person, and the situation? Stories are our unique way of understanding the world around us and they included our assumptions, attitudes, biases, and beliefs. The stories we already believe about ourselves and the situation limit the possible outcomes. For example, believing that the other person is unreasonable and irrational, leads us to be defensive. That defensive posture closes off any possibility of cooperation and mutual benefit.
Recognizing the stories that we already hold allows us to shape them to our benefit. We can challenge the stories that are not serving us. We can also develop better stories that will create the opportunities for trust and connection that we seek.
Manage your emotions.
Our emotions are a direct result of our thoughts. Thus, as we reshape our stories to be more in line with our relationship goals, our emotions will follow. But, it takes time to fully internalize our new stories. Meanwhile, our emotions can quickly become activated within the conversation.
Focus on becoming aware of your emotional state. Making sure that negative emotions do not hijack your goals for courageous conversations. Take responsibility for your feelings. Connect with your highest intention. Practice courage.
Recognize that you alone are responsible for your feelings. You choose how to respond to those feelings. The other person does not “make” you angry or happy. That is your choice.
Connecting with your highest intention focuses you on your goal of building trust. It prevents you from falling into a tit for tat banter. This is particularly important when you are feeling hurt, angry, and frustrated. At these times, ask yourself “What is the highest intention I have for this conversation, this relationship, this person?” Let that highest intention guide your behavior and not your temporary emotions.
Finally, managing your emotions requires practicing courage. We often avoid challenging conversations out of fear. Fear of rejection, fear of losing the person, fear that they will no longer think highly of us. You can not let fear determine your conversations, your relationships, or your life. Courage is action in the presence of your fear. You must speak up and engage in the conversation, even when you’re afraid to do so.
Understand their story.
Listening is a powerful form of communication . As you listen, practice listening for the other person’s stories. What are their beliefs, assumptions, attitudes? Listening for the other person’s stories helps you better understand their feelings. It will also help you better predict how they might respond to your thoughts or requests.
Listening well also helps the other person to feel better. We all want to be heard and having someone truly listen to us is a great affirmation of our dignity and value.
Respond to their emotions.
You must become aware of your own emotions and learn how to manage them before you can effectively deal with the emotions of others. Managing your emotions and deep listening, equips you to effectively respond to the other person’s emotions. Remember to always be respectful, trustworthy, and curious in your response.
By being respectful, you affirm and protect the dignity of the other person. There is nothing that begins or hardens a conflict more than being disrespected.
Allow the person to share opinions that you don’t agree with or like. This demonstrates trustworthiness and openness. This communicates that you value the other person, their ideas and perspective.
Finally, responding to the other person’s emotions requires that you get curious. If someone is furious, get curious. What’s triggered their pain? What value was violated? Anger is a powerful signal of pain resulting from a violation of personal values. We are often so fixated on the anger that we forget to get curious about what’s generating the response.
Speak to their listening.
The meaning of communication is not defined by what you are saying, but rather by what is being heard. Insights about that person’s stories help you to organize your communication. You can now frame your thoughts, questions, and request in a way that can be heard by that person.
In reflecting on how the person will listen, consider their stories and values. How can you connect your comments to their beliefs and values?
Also reflect on your responsibility in creating the current situation. You are not a helpless victim. Taking responsibility for your role creates new possibilities for the future. It also helps you to resist your ego’s desire to prove your righteousness or their wrongness.
Finally, reflect on your highest intention for that person, your relationship, and this conversation. Let that intention guide your thoughts, words, and responses. It may be helpful to write down key points in advance or practice the conversation.
Resolve Relationship Conflict Today
Identify a specific person with whom you’d like to have a courageous conversation. Identify the goal of this conversation. This goal becomes your intention. Continually return to your intention throughout the conversation.
In the beginning, focus your intentions on understanding the other person. Don’t start with a goal of trying to tell them something or get them to do something for you. This will help to distinguish this conversation from the many others before. Previous conversations, when your focus has been on getting your point across, have alienated the other person. This is what has created the conflict and lack of trust you are experiencing now. Setting your intention to understand, lays the groundwork for a different relationship dynamic.
Consider the best time and place to have your courageous conversation. Do not start these conversations when you or the other person is feeling tired, hungry, or pressed for time. If possible, invite the other person for a walk.
Walking will help lower any tension associated with the conversation. It will also give you two a common visual perspective. Many times women assume that the best way to have a conversation is staring into each other’s eyes. But, an unbroken gaze is quite anxiety producing and intimidating. Consider how primates stare down each other to determine who is the alpha male. Walking provides a shared perspective. Each party has the freedom to start and stop eye contact as needed. You become a team rather than opponents.
Before you begin the courageous conversation, take time to reflect on your stories. Consider your stories about communication in general and about this person in particular. What are your assumptions, attitudes, and potential biases? Challenge the validity of your stories. Reflect on whether they are serving you. If needed, create new stories that are more helpful in promoting courageous conversations.
Consider what emotions may emerge for you in this courageous conversation. Identify the emotions and whether it will serve your intention. Consider ways to manage emotions that are inconsistent with your intention. How can you mitigate these negative emotions? How can you prevent them from subverting your intention in this conversation.
Now you have your strategy for implementing your courageous conversation. You have a plan for managing your emotions. You are ready to begin your courageous conversation. Remember to focus on your intention above all else.
Imagining yourself as a writer may help you in seeking to understand the other person’s story. Imagine you want to be able to represent this person accurately in a biography. What is his/her motivations? Points of pain or struggle? What is his/her desire in this current moment? Remember that the most important answers are rarely spoken so pay attention to body language and what is not said.
Equipped with this knowledge, you are now able to speak to their listening. You can communicate to them that you understand and support them and their goal. This is the most important point for you to communicate. If you are not in support of their most immediate goal, try to find a deeper goal that you can support.
If you can not support your teenager’s desire to spend all day playing video games, support the function that those games serve for the teen. Say something like,
“Friends are an important part of our lives. I understand that these people you meet online are valuable friends to you. I support your motivation to get and maintain quality friendships.”
This allows you to negotiate the strategy of developing friendships. You can now have that conversation without the conflict of your teen feeling misunderstood. Keep your intentions at the forefront of your consciousness.
When you take the time to practice having courageous conversations, great things happen. Remember, the quality of the conversations determine the quality of your relationships. Upgrade your conversations and your relationships today!
Let me know how practicing courageous conversations improves your relationships. If you need more support strengthening your relationships, sign up for my newsletter. It is filled with practical tips to help you improve your relationships and improve your life.