Day by day we go about our lives: meeting this person for coffee, spending time with another while waiting in line, talking to loved ones. Normally the conversations we have with others are cordial and comforting, and tend to rest upon the surface of life. Rarely do we conversationally venture into territory of the unknown or the uncomfortable.
Which is why I love my job. I help people unleash conversations that live inside them and that they have been waiting to have but might not have known it. This can be alone – journaling for example, one-on-one – as in a coaching relationship, or in a group. Though magic happens alone and one-on-one, I am usually more amazed at what can be created in a group.
There is something that happens when a solid, safe field is created on which people can explore with themselves and with each other the deeper intricacies of conversations they might not have if not prompted to do so.
For example, the other day I led a workshop on difficult conversations. During this workshop I facilitated the participants talking with each other about difficult conversations they have had, are having or need to have. And because of the nature of their work, these participant’s very life and livelihood depends on successful difficult conversations.
Every now and again we all have a need/reason to enter into a difficult conversation. And when we do we often feel alone, as if we are the only one that ever has challenges with difficult conversations. Yet all around us are people (everyone by the way), who have their own challenges, and let it be said – successes, in difficult conversations. If we can tap into this wisdom, we can learn incredible things.
One incredibly magical thing happened the other day at this course I taught up in Canada. About 24 highly trained mountain professionals were in the room. They were asked to find a partner and with this partner discuss a difficult conversation. They had a time limit, a method of moving through the conversation together, and a list of questions to prompt each other if the conversation stalled or got stuck at a surface level. Funny thing, the conversations never died. Everyone had a lot to say, go figure.
After the groups of two completed, they condensed into groups of four. Here they shared the headlines of each other’s stories and set to work to discover common themes among them. Then they consolidated yet again into three groups of eight, shared headlines and garnered themes.
Here is where it gets amazing. There is this book called Difficult Conversations by Stone, Patton and Heen, well-funded Harvard research scientists. In their book, derived from their extensive research, they discovered the most important things to pay attention to and look out for in a difficult conversations. There are six main themes to consider.
Well, the mountain professionals in Canada in 40 minutes came up with the same list. Of course the wording was different, but the themes they came up with were the same as this well-researched book.
You may wonder, how did they do that? Well, I’ll tell you. It’s not rocket science, its relationship. And if you did the same practice at your next dinner party, you might find your friends a heck of a lot smarter than you thought they were before!
Interpersonal communication is something we all have in common. And magic happens when we realize this, take opportunities to be in conversation when we feel stuck and are courageous enough to take risks into the unknown or the uncomfortable.
As my partner Neil always says, in order to grow, you have to get really comfortable with interpersonal discomfort. And trust me, we can take you there! If you want to learn more or have a group you want to unleash, invite perspective. You never know what could happen. It will probably be magical.