“Can we talk?” It’s a critical question in every workplace. Whatever the subject, how we communicate builds trust or tears it down.
Sometimes, when we have territorial spats or personality clashes, it seems easier to just stop talking. But that doesn’t help. Think about it: Have you ever had a great relationship in which you didn’t talk to each other?
When we stop communicating, we fill that gap with our own interpretations, insecurities and fears—in short, what we think is going on. That’s how you create silos and opposing camps.
To improve your relationships, shift your conversations. Here are four FISH! Philosophy tips for conversations that strengthen relationships.
Choose Your Attitude: Focus on the outcome
A difficult conversation is not a contest with a winner and a loser. Even if you think you’ve won, your relationship with the “loser” will forever be mistrustful and unpleasant. It will affect everyone who works with either of you.
Instead, think of the conversation as an opportunity to find a solution. Ask yourself: What is the main issue or problem? What does the other person think the problem is? What outcome will work for both of us?
Staying focused on that outcome is essential. Tough conversations often lead us to become angry and aggressive. Or we shut down and give in. Neither response gets you to a solution.
Prepare yourself. What statements or reactions are likely to push your buttons? How will you stay in control if someone pokes your sore spot? Forget about being right and concentrate on finding a solution.
While planning helps, don’t “script” your response. Conversations rarely go according to plan. Be flexible, like a quarterback who is able to improvise when the play you called doesn’t happen like you drew it up.
Be There: Challenge your assumptions
To have a productive conversation, especially when it is about a past issue, you must be able to let go of judgments about what the conversation is really about.
It’s tempting to judge the other person’s motives based on how we feel. If we feel angry, it must be because they meant to make us angry. We do this so often we aren’t even aware of it.
Ask yourself: What did the person actually do or say? How did that affect me? Based on that assessment, what am I assuming about their intentions?
When you talk, share what you observed about your interaction and how their actions made you feel. This gives the other person the chance to tell you what they really meant. Whether this confirms or corrects your assumption, you’ll have a more accurate picture.
Make Their Day: Acknowledge their perspective
People claim they can keep their feelings out of difficult conversations, but that’s a rare talent. If people don’t think their feelings are being acknowledged, their feelings overwhelm their thinking. Even strong, silent types have a lot of emotions bubbling under the surface.
That’s why it’s so important to acknowledge how they are feeling. Words are not enough. People can tell if you are sincere by your body language, your eyes and tone of your voice. You must be committed.
If you aren’t sure what the other person is feeling, admit it. Ask something like, “I realize I don’t really know your view on this. Can you help me understand?”
Often when someone shares their perspective, we respond with “Yes, but . . .” before launching into how we see the issue. Try “Yes, and . . .” instead. You are each entitled to your feelings.
Once you understand each other’s perspective, you both can turn your efforts to finding a solution.
Play: Be curious
The ultimate goal of an effective conversation is to learn. That means being curious about the other person’s viewpoint.
Ask open questions, such as “Can you tell me more about . . .?” or ”How did you feel about. . . ?” Summarize what you hear to show you’re listening to understand.
Conversational curiosity is respectful. It’s the difference between “I’m interested in how you saw the situation” vs. “What the hell were you thinking!!?” Both are curious statements but only one shows respect.
Neuroscientists say when we are curious, our brains release dopamine, a chemical that makes us feel good. When we listen with curiosity, the tension and drama start to fall away. The more you listen to understand, the more the conversation moves from conflict to connection.
Building deeper relationships
Human beings aren’t always happy and we don’t always agree. We have a lot of emotional needs. If our conversations are pleasant but shallow or fake, we can’t really get to know what each other needs.
Difficult conversations, if respectful and honest, help us create much deeper relationships than if we tiptoe around each other. They can lead us to common ground so we can succeed together.