Editorial Reviews. Review. “Does this book deliver on its promise of an effective way through sticky situations, whether 'with your babysitter or your biggest client' . "Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most" is the best book on conflict resolution -both techniques and mindsets-. Read here. Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most. Stone, D., Patton, B., & Heen, S., Harvard Negotiation Project. Notes compiled by Jim Force.
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about the authors Douglas Stone is a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School and a partner at Triad Consulting Group (www. as difficult topics to discuss, and for many of us they are. But discom- fort and . No matter how good you get, difficult conversations will always chal- lenge you. Difficult Conversations® is a registered trademark of Difficult Conversations Associates. AUTHORS' Difficult conversations: how to-discuss what matters most/.
You may have been struggling with these issues for weeks, months, or years. But role assumptions can be problematic even when they are shared. You will repeatedly find yourself and others slipping back into Map the Contribution System 77 a blame frame, and will need to be vigilant in constantly correcting your course. Avoiding the First Mistake: Every difficult conversation involves grappling with these Three Conversations, so engaging successfully requires learning to operate effectively in each of the three realms. Nobody wants to be blamed, especially unfairly, so our energy goes into defending ourselves.
Also, the personal views and feelings are no less -and no more- legitimate and important than any other party. The authors rightly point out that the other party has likely not read Difficult Conversations, so they might remain focused on blaming and arguing on right and wrong.
They provide and detail some great tools. Reframing for example means taking the blame and accusation of the other party and reframing them in more positive terms for the discussion, for example as contributions. Naming the dynamic is another great technique. For example of the other party goes off track, for example by interrupting or refusing to admitting their own feelings, call the attention to that behavior and raise it as a point of discussion.
The naming the dynamic technique will make the other person aware of their own behavior. Remember that you both need to agree on the solution, and that they have to persuade you as much as you need to persuade them. Ask them what would persuade them, and tell them what would persuade you. When the parties cannot find a solution working for both, they must decide on whether to accept a smaller solution, deal with the consequences or walk away.
I remembered when I first started listening to Difficult Conversations. I was super excited at how much I was going to learn and boy was I right: Check the best books to read and Get Difficult Conversations on Amazon. Further Reading: Crucial Conversations is similar, albeit I prefer Difficult Conversations. The author is a sociologist M.
An avid reader with an endless thirst for wisdom, he built the web's biggest repository of free book summaries and reviews. If you want to do more, learn more and be more, this is your place. Join the movement. You must be logged in to post a comment. Difficult Conversations Author: Psychology Publisher: Penguin Release Date: November 2, Pages: You Will Also Like: Get thousands of book summaries on Blinkist.
About the Author The author is a sociologist M. Best Book Updates I don't use this newsletter for marketing. You will only get information on great books and learning resources. In the conversation between Jack and Michael, Jack is struggling with the sense that he has been incompetent, which makes him feel less balanced.
And Michael is wondering whether he acted foolishly in hiring Jack. Every difficult conversation involves grappling with these Three Conversations, so engaging successfully requires learning to operate effectively in each of the three realms.
And we will still face emotionally charged situations that feel threatening because they put important aspects of our identity at risk. What we can change is the way we respond to each of these challenges. Instead of working to man- Sort Out the Three Conversations 9 age our feelings constructively, we either try to hide them or let loose in ways that we later regret. Instead of exploring the identity issues that may be deeply at stake for us or them , we proceed with the conversation as if it says nothing about us — and never come to grips with what is at the heart of our anxiety.
By understanding these errors and the havoc they wreak, we can begin to craft better approaches. On each of these three fronts — truth, intentions, and blame — we make a common but crippling assumption. Straightening out each of these assumptions is essential to improving our ability to handle difficult conversations well.
The Truth Assumption As we argue vociferously for our view, we often fail to question one crucial assumption upon which our whole stance in the conversation is built: I am right, you are wrong. This simple assumption causes endless grief. What am I right about? I am right that you drive too fast. I am right that you are unable to mentor younger colleagues. I am right that your comments at Thanksgiving were inappropriate.
I am right that the patient should have received more medication after such a painful operation. I am right that the contractor overcharged me. I am right that I deserve a raise. I am right that the brochure is fine as it is. The number of things I am right about would fill a book. I am not right. How could this be so? It seems impossible. Surely I must be right sometimes!
Well, no. The point is this: They are about conflicting perceptions, interpretations, and values. They are not about what a contract states, they are about what a contract means. They are not about which child-rearing book is most popular, they are about which child-rearing book we should follow. They are not about what is true, they are about what is important. There is no dispute about whether the graph is accurate or not.
They both agree it is not. The dispute is over whether the error is worth worrying about and, if so, how to handle it. These are not questions of right and wrong, but questions of interpretation and judgment. Interpretations and judgments are important to explore. In contrast, the quest to determine who is right and who is wrong is a dead end. It allows us to move away from delivering messages and toward asking questions, exploring how each person is making sense of the world.
Did you yell at me to hurt my feelings or merely to emphasize your point? What I think about your intentions will affect how I think about you and, ultimately, how our conversation goes.
Sort Out the Three Conversations 11 The error we make in the realm of intentions is simple but profound: The truth is, intentions are invisible. In other words, we make them up, we invent them.
Sometimes people act with mixed intentions. Sometimes they act with no intention, or at least none related to us. And sometimes they act on good intentions that nonetheless hurt us. When the company loses its biggest client, for example, we know that there will shortly ensue a ruthless game of blame roulette. Personal relationships are no different. Your relationship with your stepmother is strained? She should stop bugging you about your messy room and the kids you hang out with.
Jack did the layout, mistakes are his responsibility. But talking about fault is similar to talking about truth — it produces disagreement, denial, and little learning. Nobody wants to be blamed, especially unfairly, so our energy goes into defending ourselves.
Parents of small children know this well. When the twins act up in the back seat of the car, we know that trying to affix blame will always yield an outcry: From the front seat looking back, it is easy to see how each child has contributed to the fight.
But in situations that give rise to difficult conversations, it is almost always true that what happened is the result of things both people did — or failed to do.
And punishment is rarely relevant or appropriate. When competent, sensible people do something stupid, the smartest move is to try to figure out, first, what kept them from seeing it coming and, second, how to prevent the problem from happening again.
Talking about blame distracts us from exploring why things went wrong and how we might correct them going forward.
Focusing instead on understanding the contribution system allows us to learn about the real causes of the problem, and to work on correcting them.
The distinction between blame and contribution may seem subtle. But it is a distinction worth working to understand, because it will make a significant difference in your ability to handle difficult conversations. The Feelings Conversation: Difficult conversations are not just about what happened; they also involve emotion.
The question is not whether strong feelings will arise, but how to handle them when they do. Should you tell your boss how you really feel about his management style, or about the Sort Out the Three Conversations 13 colleague who stole your idea? Should you share with your sister how hurt you feel that she stayed friends with your ex? And what should you do with the anger you are likely to experience if you decide to talk with that vendor about his sexist remarks? In the presence of strong feelings, many of us work hard to stay rational.
Getting too deep into feelings is messy, clouds good judgment, and in some contexts — for example, at work — can seem just plain inappropriate.
Bringing up feelings can also be scary or uncomfortable, and can make us feel vulnerable. After all, what if the other person dismisses our feelings or responds without real understanding? Or takes our feelings to heart in a way that wounds them or irrevocably damages the relationship? Are we up to hearing all about their anger and pain? This line of reasoning suggests that we stay out of the Feelings Conversation altogether — that Jack is better off not sharing his feelings of anger and hurt, or Michael his sense of disappointment.
Better to stick to questions about the brochure. An Opera Without Music The problem with this reasoning is that it fails to take account of one simple fact: Feelings are not some noisy byproduct of engaging in difficult talk, they are an integral part of the conflict. Engaging in a difficult conversation without talking about feelings is like staging an opera without the music. In the conversation between Jack and Michael, for example, Jack never explicitly says that he feels mistreated or underappreciated, yet months later Jack can still summon his anger and resentment toward Michael.
Consider some of your own difficult conversations. What feel- 14 The Problem ings are involved? Hurt or anger? Disappointment, shame, confusion? Do you feel treated unfairly or without respect? In the short term, engaging in a difficult conversation without talking about feelings may save you time and reduce your anxiety. It may also seem like a way to avoid certain serious risks — to you, to others, and to the relationship. But the question remains: Understanding feelings, talking about feelings, managing feelings — these are among the greatest challenges of being human.
There is nothing that will make dealing with feelings easy and riskfree. Most of us, however, can do a better job in the Feelings Conversation than we are now. It may not seem like it, but talking about feelings is a skill that can be learned. As the saying goes, sometimes you should let sleeping dogs lie. The Identity Conversation: Of the Three Conversations, the Identity Conversation may be the most subtle and the most challenging.
But it offers us significant leverage in managing our anxiety and improving our skills in the other two conversations. The Identity Conversation looks inward: How does what happened affect my selfesteem, my self-image, my sense of who I am in the world? What impact will it have on my future? What self-doubts do I harbor?
In short: Why does my sense of who I am in the world matter here? Something beyond the apparent substance of the conversation is at stake for you. It may be something simple. What does it say about you when you talk to your neighbors about their dog?
It may be that growing up in a small town gave you a strong self-image as a friendly person and good neighbor, so you are uncomfortable with the possibility that your neighbors might see you as aggressive or as a troublemaker. Asking for a raise? What if you get turned down? In fact, what if your boss gives you good reasons for turning you down? What will that do to your self-image as a competent and respected employee?
Even when you are the one delivering bad news, the Identity Conversation is in play. Imagine, for example, that you have to turn down an attractive new project proposal from Creative. Keeping Your Balance As you begin to sense the implications of the conversation for your self-image, you may begin to lose your balance.
The eager young head of Creative, who reminds you so much of yourself at that age, looks disbelieving and betrayed. You suddenly feel confused; your anxiety skyrockets. You wonder whether it really makes sense to drop the idea so early in the process.
In more extreme cases, it can feel earth-shattering. We may feel paralyzed, overcome by panic, stricken with an urge to flee, or even have trouble breathing. Just knowing that the Identity Conversation is a component of difficult conversations can help. And, as in the other two conversations, you can do much better than mere awareness.
While losing your balance sometimes is inevitable, the Identity Conversation need not cause as much anxiety as it does. Like dealing with feelings, grappling with the Identity Conversation gets easier with the development of certain skills. Indeed, once you find your footing in the Identity Conversation, you can turn what is often a source of anxiety into a source of strength. Moving Toward a Learning Conversation Despite what we sometimes pretend, our initial purpose for having a difficult conversation is often to prove a point, to give them a piece of our mind, or to get them to do or be what we want.
In other words, to deliver a message. Once you understand the challenges inherent in the Three Conversations and the mistakes we make in each, you are likely to find that your purpose for having a particular conversation begins to shift.
And you find that a message delivery stance no longer makes sense. In fact, you may find that you no longer have a message to deliver, but rather some information to share and some questions to ask.
In Sort Out the Three Conversations 17 so doing, you make it more likely that the other person will be open to being persuaded, and that you will learn something that significantly changes the way you understand the problem. Changing our stance means inviting the other person into the conversation with us, to help us figure things out.
We need to have a learning conversation. The differences between a typical battle of messages and a learning conversation are summarized in the chart on the following pages.
I know all I need to know to understand what happened. The situation is more complex than either person can see. I know what they intended. I know what I intended, and the impact their actions had on me.
Let them know what they did was wrong. Share the impact on me, and find out what they were thinking. We have probably both contributed to this mess. Get them to admit blame and take responsibility for making amends. Understand the contribution system: The situation is emotionally charged. The Identity Conversation Challenge: The situation threatens our identity. Or, my feelings are their fault and they need to hear about them. Feelings are the heart of the situation. Feelings are usually complex.
I may have to dig a bit to understand my feelings. Avoid talking about feelings. Address feelings mine and theirs without judgments or attributions. Acknowledge feelings before problemsolving.
There is no in-between. There may be a lot at stake psychologically for both of us. Each of us is complex, neither of us is perfect. Protect my allor-nothing self-image. Understand the identity issues on the line for each of us. Build a more complex self-image to maintain my balance better. This book will help you turn difficult conversations into learning conversations by helping you handle each of the Three Conversations more productively and improving your ability to handle all three at once.
The next five chapters explore in depth the mistakes people commonly make in each of the Three Conversations. These chapters will help you sort out your thoughts and feelings. This preparation is essential before you step into any difficult conversation. Then we turn to the mechanics of how to talk productively about the issues that matter to you: Finally, we return to how Jack might have a follow-up conversation with Michael to illustrate how this all might look in practice.
And instead of assuming that the client is always right, he argues with me! But what really made me angry was the way Jack was making excuses about the chart instead of just fixing it. And the revenue graphs were the critical part of the financial presentation. How much money should we put into advertising? Should the neighborhood boys let your daughter play stick ball? Is the brochure up to professional standards? Disagreement is not a bad thing, nor does it necessarily lead to a difficult conversation.
We disagree with people all the time, and often no one cares very much. But other times, we care a lot. The disagreement seems at the heart of what is going wrong between us. And often the disagreement continues into the future, wreaking havoc whenever it raises its head. When disagreement occurs, arguing may seem natural, even reasonable.
Deep down, we believe that the problem, put simply, is them. Rory, for example, cares about her Aunt Bertha. She wants to help, and she has the capacity to help.
So Rory does what we all do: If the other person is stubborn, we assert harder in an attempt to break through whatever is keeping them from seeing what is sensible.
We persist in the hope that what we say will eventually make a difference. But instead, our persistence leads to arguments. And these arguments lead nowhere. Nothing gets settled. We each feel unheard or poorly treated. But if arguing leads us nowhere, what else can we do? The first thing we should do is hear from Aunt Bertha.
About Rory, Aunt Bertha has this to say: Aunt Bertha, it seems, thinks the problem is Rory. This raises an interesting question: Why is it always the other person who is naive or selfish or irrational or controlling?
Why is it that we never think we are the problem? What we are saying does make sense. Like Rory and Aunt Bertha, we each have different stories about what is going on in the world. But really the collision is a result of our stories simply being different, with neither of us realizing it.
No wonder we end up arguing. Arguing inhibits our ability to learn how the other person sees the world. Rather than helping us understand our different views, arguing results in a battle of messages. Rather than drawing us together, arguing pulls us apart.
Arguing Without Understanding Is Unpersuasive Arguing creates another problem in difficult conversations: Telling someone to change makes it less rather than more likely that they will. This is because people almost never change without first feeling understood.
Trevor is the financial administrator for the state Department of Social Services. Karen is a social worker with the department. And when I bring it up, she gets annoyed. Trevor is telling Karen what she is supposed to do, but has not yet engaged her in a twoway conversation about the issue.
She puts all of her energy into her clients, who are very needy. On my end, I explained to her how I have to go through all kinds of extra work when she submits her paperwork late, and I explained the extra work in detail to her. She promised to put a higher priority on getting her work in on time, and so far she has.
Finally, each has learned something, and the stage for meaningful change is set. And we need to help them understand the story in which our conclusions make sense. Different Stories: Our stories are built in often uncon2.
Our Interpretations scious but systematic ways. First, we take in information. Our Observations We experience the world — sights, sounds, and feelings. Available Information Second, we interpret what we see, hear, and feel; we give it all meaning. Put simply, we all have different stories about the world because we each take in different information and then interpret this information in our own unique ways.
In difficult conversations, too often we trade only conclusions back and forth, without stepping down to where most of the real action is: We Have Different Information There are two reasons we all have different information about the world. First, as each of us proceeds through life — and through any difficult situation — the information available to us is overwhelming.
Inevitably, we end up noticing some things and ignoring others. And what we each choose to notice and ignore will be different. Second, we each have access to different information. We Notice Different Things. Doug took his four-year-old nephew, Andrew, to watch a homecoming parade. Andrew, truck obsessed as he was, saw nothing else. In a sense, Andrew and his uncle watched completely different parades.
Like Doug and Andrew, what we notice has to do with who we are and what we care about. Some of us pay more attention to feelings and relationships. Some of us are artists, others are scientists, others pragmatists. Some of us tend to see ourselves as victims, others as heroes, observers, or survivors.
The information we attend to varies accordingly. Randy, who is white, believes that the company they work for has a generally good record on minority recruitment and promotion. He notices that of the seven people on his assembly team, two are African Americans and one is Latino, and that the head of the union is Latino.
He has also learned that his supervisor is originally from the Philippines. Randy believes in the merits of a diverse workplace and has noticed approvingly that several people of color have recently been promoted.
Daniel, who is Korean American, has a different view. He has been on the receiving end of unusual questions about his qualifications. He has experienced several racial slurs from coworkers and one from a foreman. These experiences are prominent in his mind. He also knows of several minority coworkers who were overlooked for promotion, and notices that a disproportionate number of the top executives at the company are white.
And Daniel has listened repeatedly to executives who talk as if the only two racial categories that mattered were white and African American. Yet each assumes that the facts are plain, and his view is reality. In addition to choosing different information, we each have access to different information.
Their internal experience is far more complex than we imagine. Jack was there. Jack knows what it felt like as he struggled to stay awake. He knows how uncomfortable it was when the heat was turned off at midnight. He knows how angry his wife was that he had to cancel their dinner together. Jack also knows how happy he felt to be doing a favor for a friend. And there is plenty that Jack is not aware of. A second reason we tell different stories about the world is that, even when we have the same information, we interpret it differently — we give it different meaning.
I see the cup as half empty; you see it as a metaphor for the fragility of humankind. We Are Influenced by Past Experiences. The past gives meaning to the present.
To celebrate the end of a long project, Bonnie and her coworkers scraped together the money to treat their supervisor, Caroline, to dinner at a nice restaurant. Throughout the meal, Caroline did little but complain: Five dollars for dessert! She ruined the evening. Upon reflection, Caroline explained: I suppose it has to do with growing up during the Depression.
She was so proud to be able to buy my lunch every day. But I never had the heart to tell her. Years later, even a moderately priced meal can feel like an extravagance to Caroline when filtered through the images and feelings of this experience. Every strong view you have is profoundly influenced by your past experiences. We simply believe that this is the way things are.
We Apply Different Implicit Rules. Whether we are aware of them or not, we all follow such rules.
They tell us how the world works, how people should act, or how things are supposed to be. And they have a significant influence on the story we tell about what is happening between us in a difficult conversation. We get into trouble when our rules collide. Ollie and Thelma, for example, are stuck in a tangle of conflicting rules. As sales representatives, they spend a lot of time together on the road. One evening, they agreed to meet at 7: Thelma, as usual, arrived at 7: Ollie showed up at 7: This was not the first time Ollie had arrived late, and Thelma was so frustrated that she had trouble focusing for the first twenty minutes of their meeting.
Ollie was frustrated that Thelma was frustrated. It helps to clarify the implicit rules that each is unconsciously applying. In fact, we need them to order our lives. But when you find yourself in conflict, it helps to make your rules explicit and to encourage the other person to do the same.
This greatly reduces the chance that you will be caught in an accidental duel of conflicting rules. Our Conclusions Reflect Self-Interest Finally, when we think about why we each tell our own stories about the world, there is no getting around the fact that our conclusions are partisan, that they often reflect our self-interest.
We look for information to support our view and give that information the most favorable interpretation. Then we feel even more certain that our view is right.
Professor Howard Raiffa of the Harvard Business School demonstrated this phenomenon when he gave teams of people a set of facts about a company. He told some of the teams they would be negotiating to buy the company, and others that they would be selling the company. He then asked each team to value the company as objectively as possible not the price at which they would offer to buy or sell, but what they believed it was actually worth.
Raiffa found that sellers, in their heart of hearts, believed the company to be worth on average 30 percent more than the independently assessed fair market value.
Buyers, in turn, valued it at 30 percent less. Each team developed a self-serving perception without realizing they were doing so. Our colleague Roger Fisher captured this phenomenon in a wry reflection on his days as a litigator: The next day Keiko is getting ready to visit the hospital. From the outside, Tony is watching a game on TV. Throughout the week, he works ten hours a day under extremely stressful conditions, then comes home and plays with his two boys, doing whatever they want.
After the struggle of getting them to bed, he spends time with Keiko, talking mostly about her day. Finally, he collapses into bed. For Tony, watching the game is the one time during the week when he can truly relax.
Keiko needs to share her story with Tony, and then, once everything is on the table, together they can figure out what to do. This may sound like an odd thing to worry about. In a word, no. The process by which we construct our stories about the world often happens so fast, and so automatically, that we are not even aware of all that influences our views.
And what implicit rules are important to him? Recall the story of Andrew and his Uncle Doug at the parade. Embrace Both Stories: After all, your story is so different from theirs, and makes so much sense to you.
The answer is that the question makes no sense. First work to understand it. The And Stance allows you to recognize that how you each see things matters, that how you each feel matters. Regardless of what you end up doing, regardless of whether your story influences theirs or theirs yours, both stories matter.
The And Stance is based on the assumption that the world is complex, that you can feel hurt, angry, and wronged, and they can feel just as hurt, angry, and wronged. You may have done something stupid, and they will have contributed in important ways to the problem as well. You can feel furious with them, and you can also feel love and appreciation for them.
The And Stance gives you a place from which to assert the full strength of your views and feelings without having to diminish the views and feelings of someone else. Because you may have different information or different interpretations, both stories can make sense at the same time. It may be that as you share them, your stories change in response to new information or different perspectives. You know you are right that smoking is bad for her, that the sooner she stops the better.
Fair enough. About each of those things, you are right. The conversation is about many issues between the two of you that are complex and important to explore. Both of you already agree on that. What may help is to tell him about the impact his drinking has on you, and, further, to try to understand his story.
What is keeping him in denial? What would it mean to him to admit he has a problem? What gets in the way? When firing someone or breaking up or reducing orders, you do. But the question of differing perspectives is also important. In fact, the And Stance is probably the most powerful place to stand when engaging in a difficult conversation that requires you to deliver or enforce bad news. And, and, and. To Move Forward, First Understand Where You Are As you head down the path of improving how you deal with difficult conversations, you will notice that the question of how we each make sense of our worlds follows you like the moon in the night sky.
It will, however, help you evaluate whether your strong views make sense in light of new information and different interpretations, and it will help you help others to appreciate the power of those views.
Before you can figure out how to move forward, you need to understand where you are. The next two chapters delve more deeply into two problematic aspects of our story — our tendency to misunderstand their intentions, and our tendency to focus on blame.
Intentions strongly influence our judgments of others: If someone intended to hurt us, we judge them more harshly than if they hurt us by mistake.
Though either blocks our way just as surely, we react differently to an ambulance double-parked on a narrow street than we do to a BMW. The Battle Over Intentions Consider the story of Lori and Leo, who have been in a relationship for two years and have a recurring fight that is painful to both of them.
Later that evening things went from bad to worse: I really resented it at the party, the way you treated me in front of our friends. Disentangle Intent from Impact 45 Leo: The way I treated you?
What are you talking about? About the ice cream. You have this need to control me or put me down. Humiliating me in front of my friends is your idea of helping? I am so sick of this. This conversation left both Lori and Leo feeling angry, hurt, and misunderstood. They are engaged in a classic battle over intentions: Lori accuses Leo of hurting her on purpose, and Leo denies it. Two Key Mistakes There is a way out. Two crucial mistakes in this conversation make it infinitely more difficult than it needs to be — one by Lori and one by Leo.
And we do it all the time. This mistake, too, is as common as it is crippling. Fortunately, with some awareness, both mistakes can be avoided. The First Mistake: They are invisible to us. We Assume Intentions from the Impact on Us Much of the first mistake can be traced to one basic error: We feel hurt; therefore they intended to hurt us.
We feel slighted; therefore they intended to slight us. We Assume the Worst. Margaret fell into this pattern. She had had her hip operated on by a prominent surgeon, a man she found gruff and hard to talk to. When Margaret hobbled in for her first appointment after surgery, the receptionist told her that the doctor had unexpectedly extended his vacation.
Angry, Margaret imagined her wealthy doctor cavorting in the Caribbean with his wife or girlfriend, too self-important and inconsiderate to return on schedule. The picture compounded her anger. When Margaret finally saw the doctor a week later, she asked curtly how his vacation had been. He responded that it had been wonderful. But the doctor went on: I was helping set up a hospital in Bosnia. The conditions there are just horrendous. Yet knowing that he was not acting out of selfishness, but from an unrelated and generous motivation, left Margaret feeling substantially better about having to wait the extra week.
We attribute intentions to others all the time. With business and even personal relationships increasingly conducted via e-mail, voice mail, faxes, and conference calls, we often have to read between the lines to figure out what people really mean. Is he angry? Without tone of voice to guide us, it is easy to assume the worst.
We Treat Ourselves More Charitably. When you offer suggestions to others in the same meeting, you are trying to be helpful. Are There Never Bad Intentions? Of course, sometimes we get hurt because someone meant to hurt us. The person we are dealing with is nasty or inconsiderate, out to make us look bad or steal our best friend. Once we think we have someone figured out, we see all of their actions through that lens, and the stakes rise.
What is it based on? The easiest and most common way of expressing these assumptions is with an accusatory question: We are trying to begin a conversation that will end in greater understanding, perhaps some improved behavior, and maybe an apology. What they think we are doing is trying to provoke, accuse, or malign them. In other words, they make the same mistaken leap in judging our intentions.
And given how frequently our assumptions are incomplete or wrong, the other person often feels not just accused, but falsely accused. Few things are more aggravating. We should not be surprised, then, that they try to defend themselves, or attack back. From their point of view, they are defending themselves from false accusations. The result is a mess. No one learns anything, no one apologizes, nothing changes.
Lori and Leo fall right into this. And thus begins a cycle of accusation. Each would claim that their own statements were made in self-defense. Those are the two classic characteristics of the cycle: This is how well-intentioned people get themselves into trouble. So she gives you even less responsibility than before. When we think others have bad intentions toward us, it affects our behavior.
And, in turn, how we behave affects how they treat us. Before we know it, our assumption that they have bad intentions toward us has come true. The Second Mistake: He assumes that because he had good intentions, Lori should not feel hurt. The thinking goes like this: Because we feel the need to defend ourselves. Because Leo Disentangle Intent from Impact 51 is so busy defending himself, he fails to hear that Lori is hurt.
A literal focus on intentions ends up clouding the conversation. He would prefer not to hurt his son.
But his desire not to hurt his son is not as strong as his desire or need to work. The question is when. If you do it at the beginning of the conversation, you are likely doing it without fully understanding what the other person really means to express. Is he just trying to help Lori with her diet? Or maybe he wants her to lose weight not so much for herself, but for him. But the answer to the question of what is truly motivating Leo is less important than his willingness to ask the question and look for an answer.
A few years ago a newspaper was experiencing racial strife among its workers. African American and Hispanic reporters complained about the absence of minority voices at the editorial level, and threatened to organize a boycott unless practices were changed. In response, the executive editors met behind closed doors to consider what to do. No minority staffers were invited to the meeting. When the minority reporters learned of the meeting, they were outraged.
When one of the white editors heard this, she felt wrongly accused and sought to clarify the intention of the meeting: It was simply a meeting of editors trying to figure out a good next step for how to include minority voices.
After all, everything was now clear. The intentions of the white editors are important. Avoiding the Two Mistakes The good news is that the two mistakes around intentions and impact are avoidable. Avoiding the First Mistake: Disentangle Impact and Intent How can Lori avoid the mistake of attributing intentions to Leo that he may not have? It is a intentions intentions guess, a hypothesis.
Your guess might be right and it might be wrong. In fact, your reaction might even say as much about you as it does about what they did. Many people find certain kinds of teasing hostile, for example, because of bad experiences with siblings, while others think of teasing in moderation as a way to connect and show affection. You can use your answers to the three questions listed above to begin the difficult conversation itself: Consider how this would change the beginning of the conversation between Lori and Leo.
Instead of beginning with an accusation, Lori can begin by identifying what Leo said, and what the impact was on her: Well, I felt hurt by that. You did? I was just trying to help you stay on your diet. Why does that make you upset? Disentangle Intent from Impact 55 Lori: I felt embarrassed that you said it in front of our friends. Then what I wonder is whether you said it on purpose to embarrass or hurt me.
The conversation is only beginning, but it is off to a better start. Nor do we suggest hiding your view. Instead, recognize your assumptions for what they are — mere guesses subject to modification or disproof. When you share your assumptions about their intentions, simply be clear that you are sharing assumptions — guesses — and that you are sharing them for the purpose of testing whether they make sense to the other person.
Some Defensiveness Is Inevitable. Of course, no matter how skillfully you handle things, you are likely to encounter some defensiveness. The matter of intentions and impacts is complex, and sometimes the distinctions are fine. The more you can relieve the other person of the need to defend themselves, the easier it becomes for them to take in what you are saying and to reflect on the complexity of their motivations.
It seemed uncharacteristic of you. If there was some malice mixed in with what they said, this balance makes it easier for them to own up to it. Listen Past the Accusation for the Feelings. Remember that the accusation about our bad intentions is always made up of two separate ideas: But neither should you ignore the second. And if you start by listening and acknowledging the feelings, and then return to the question of intentions, it will make your conversation significantly easier and more constructive.
We can imagine how the initial conversation might have gone if Leo followed this advice with Lori: What do you mean? It sounds like what I said really hurt. Of course it hurt. What did you expect? But I can see how saying something in front of everyone would be embarrassing. Maybe you were embarrassed to have to say something.
Yeah, maybe. I could have seen you as out of control, which is a big issue for me. And I probably was a little out of control. Good idea. Map the Contribution System The ad agency you work for flies you to Boulder to pitch executives at ExtremeSport, a burgeoning sportswear company and a potentially important client. Right client, wrong campaign. Shaken, you stumble through an unfocused talk.
With one slip, your assistant, who packs your briefcase, has undermined weeks of hard work. When you and your assistant finally discuss what went wrong, you can take one of two approaches. Whether on the surface or below, the conversation revolves around the question of who is to blame.
Who is the bad person in this relationship? Who made the mistake? Who should apologize? Who gets to be righteously indignant? Focusing on blame is a bad idea. Nor because it can injure relationships and cause pain and anxiety.
Many subjects are hard to discuss and have potentially negative side effects and are nonetheless important to address. And because blame is often irrelevant and unfair. The urge to blame is based, quite literally, on a misunderstanding of what has given rise to the issues between you and the other person, and on the fear of being blamed.
Too often, blaming also serves as a bad proxy for talking directly about hurt feelings. That something else is the concept of contribution. The distinction between blame and contribution is not always easy to grasp, but it is essential to improving your ability to handle difficult conversations well. Distinguish Blame from Contribution At heart, blame is about judging and contribution is about understanding. First, did this person cause the problem? Second, if so, how should her actions be judged against some standard of conduct?
Was she incompetent, unreasonable, unethical? And third, if the judgment is negative, how should she be punished? Will she be yelled at? Perhaps even fired? We mean not only that you caused this, but that you did something bad and should be punished. What can we do about it as we go forward? In the worlds of both business and personal relationships, too often we deal in blame when our real goals are understanding and change.
The first conversation focuses on blame, the second on contribution. I wanted to talk to you about my presentation at ExtremeSport. You packed the wrong storyboards. The situation was unbelievably awkward, and made me look terrible.