Communications: Having Difficult Conversations

W. Henry Gregory, Jr. Ph.D.

At some time or another we all are challenged to have conversations that could potentially end in conflict or disagreement.  These types of conversations are usually opportunities to build coalitions, mend fences, expand horizons or simply understand from another’s perspective.   We all have perspectives that shape our world and our responses to it.  It is easy to assume that our perspective is of greater value than another’s, but this is seldom true.   Having effective conversations across beliefs, understanding and perspective requires both skill and openness.  It is both science and art, and is the foundation for an effective process of working together and problem-solving, honoring the benefits that diversity of thought, experience and perspective can bring.  We build better solutions from diverse thought than homogenous thought.  Yes, but it can take more energy – at least initially.

The key to having difficult conversation is “first seek to understand and then to be understood.”   The process of communication involves focusing on how issues are expressed over what is expressed.   Too often communication breaks down because of our focus on whois right.   We become distracted by our need to promote and justify our positions and our efforts to get the other to submit to our understanding.  If the overall purpose of communication is to support our collective ability to work together successfully then it matters little who is right, if being right alienates the other and breaks down the communication.

Communication is grounded in and supported by connection.  Connection is facilitated by trust and respect.  This trust is not only trusting the other but also trusting the self to be able to handle things that may seem contrary to your own understanding and perspective.   Peace is a byproduct of trust.  We like to say, “Trust the process” by making your best effort, letting the rest go and giving the Divine a chance to do what the Divine does.

We propose a focus on how we communicate over focusing on what is communicated.  If we understand communication as vibrational interaction it may become easier to see how harsh, rigid, or demanding interactions may sabotage the original intent of the communication.  The vibratory frequency of the communication is created by not only the words, which account for only about 15 percent of the message, but also by the tone, posture, rhythm, etc. of the person sending the message.  Messages have more power when they are most congruent in their presentation and content or, as said more simply by Shree Vasant, “The task is to be full of love all the time.”

Shree’s words remind us that whether we agree or not with the other, our responsibility is to be full of love.  To me, that means listening openly and empathetically to the other and attempting to make connection from the heart with their intent, which is always assumed to be positive.  People tend to connect more fully in communications when they feel they can trust the other and that they are being respected.  While this may seem simple, it can be quite challenging if the subject matter at hand or the other’s presentation sparks intense emotions in you.  So, the first step is to take inventory of one’s own emotions before (and during) the conversation.  Awareness of one’s emotions is empowering and creates options.  Ignorance of one’s emotions is sabotaging and creates blockages.

So, in summary, the following steps are suggested for difficult conversations (or the daily ones that can become difficult):

  1. Be aware of your own emotions. Emotions are messengers that can provide guidance and assistance to our decision-making process when we are aware of them and attentive to their messages.
  2. Assume positive intent from the other. We are each, with every thought and action, trying to meet legitimate needs – even if sometimes in unhealthy ways.  If the other seems to be ineffective, or even hostile, in his/her presentation, this may be a reason to be more compassionate and empathetic instead of harsh or demanding.
  3. Remember that trust and respect facilitate connection and connection is the foundation of communication. We are more likely to take the risk of trying on new perspectives and behaviors in an atmosphere where we feel trust and respect.
  4. Listen openly and empathetically to understand from the other’s perspective. To listen is not necessarily to condone but it is to be open to genuinely attending to the other’s perspective.
  5. Say what you have to say with and out of Love. Love does not compromise effectiveness, it facilitates it. Anything that needs to be said can be said with Love.

Idam Na Mama.