I was recently putting a training together on the topic of crucial conversations and I came across a statement in a text that really stuck with me.
"others don't make you feel mad - you make you mad."
Seriously - spend some time thinking about that. This is a reality that I would argue more people need to consider. I have often wondered why we have such a hard time with difficult conversations. For me, when I find that I am in a high-emotion discussion, I revert to my safe space, which is silence. However, this statement made me think that I will put myself into the protective space for no reason at all. When I think about why I have a hard time with high-emotion conversations, I know this about my self - I make assumptions and allow those assumptions to create a story in my mind. Those assumptions become my truth and I have a hard time working out of the hole I dug myself into.
The second statement that goes with what I just mentioned is:
"Once you have created your emotions, you have only two options: You can act on them or be acted on by them."
I have come to realize that I need to be more aware of how I allow my emotions affect me during conversations. Ultimately, we have a choice. We can control our emotions or be controlled by them. The ability to take a second to reflect on our emotions, acknowledge them, and then make an appropriate decision about what to do with that information can be transformational for all of us whether we are at work or at home.
There are a lot of great strategies out there for how we can better recognize and handle the emotions we show in all that we do. Instead of simply telling you, "Here are three things to do..." I am going to offer the following: Regardless of what you do to manage your emotions, it must start with awareness.
Remember the first quote I shared, "you make you mad." We need to understand what that means to us, personally. What does this statement mean to you? What does it look like? How does it make you feel? Before we can start fixing - we need to become aware.
How do you become aware? Here is what I would recommend:
Stop and pause. Give yourself some time to stop everything around you so you can think. Separate yourself from tasks - this is not something you want to multi-task during. Stop and think about a recent conversation where your emotions became present. Maybe you become upset or mad. Maybe you heard news that made you really excited. Either way, I want you to think about what that message was and how your emotions impacted that conversation.
Identify the gaps. Regardless of whether your situation was good or bad, we should be aware of the gaps in the message we received. If I become upset with someone based on what they said, I am going to stop listening - or at least stop listening intently. On the flip side, if I hear really good news, I may end up becoming so excited that I stop listening because I am thinking about all of the new possibilities. Gaps can be damaging and lead to additional disappointment. So, where were the gaps in the conversation you are thinking about? **If you are not sure - think about the words that made you upset or happy. What was said right after that? Is there information you may have missed because you were too focused on the emotions that were coming to life?
Seek clarity. Don't forget - we all do this. Emotions are a natural part of life and we all make mistakes when we are communicating with others. Don't be afraid to seek clarity from the other person. Questions such as:
"I'm sorry. I missed that last point. Can you please restate that?
"I want to make sure I heard everything you were saying. Can you expand on...."
"That was not what I was expecting to hear. Can we please go over that again?"
These questions are also good ways to give yourself some more time to think or to put yourself back into a neutral mood.
Emotions are everywhere. We encounter them in every conversation. Sometimes they are negative and sometimes they are positive. Spending time understanding how we respond to conversations allows for us to develop new skills.
As I tell almost ever team I work with - Communication is the easiest to identify as something to fix in a team, yet it is almost always the most difficult to fix.
We all bring different viewpoints to our conversations. The next time someone says something you weren't expecting, seek to understand versus going into your 'safe space.'
Let me know at Jason@slicoaching.net
Patterson, K., Grenny, J., McMillan, R., & Switzler, A.. (2012). Crucial Conversations: Tools for talking when steaks are high. McGraw-Hill: New York, NY. (p. 104).