I titled this post before I started writing it, with the intention of talking about the one piece of a difficult conversation that steers the ship--my purpose for holding it. Then, it occurred to me that the purpose of any conversation is intimately connected to the purpose for my life, my work, my reason for being. For example:
- Why do I hold certain conversations and not others?
- What makes this one worthy of my energy and time?
- How would things unfold if I didn't bring up the issue?
- What are the consequences of this decision, pro and con?
A lot goes into the decision for me and, I hope, for you. Because whether and how I express myself, listen, acknowledge you (if I do), and look for mutual ground (or not), says a lot about who I am.
Love and the Metacommunicator
Love and the metacommunicator (the part of our awareness that allows us to silently and non-judgmentally observe ourselves) are crucially connected by Purpose.
- Am I operating out of love or fear?
- Is it my intention to help resolve this difficulty?
- What attitude is behind my words and actions, and how am I impacting others? Do I care?
- How critical am I of myself? Of others? Is this helping or hurting my purpose?
I worry about the divergent voices that shout into the field of our social, emotional, and relational world without thinking first. I want to ask where's the M-C -- the inner awareness that should be posing questions like, "What's my purpose here? What are the reasons I'm about to say/do these things? What are the long-term consequences?"
In my new book, Turning Enemies Into Allies: The Art of Peace in the Workplace, (May 1 release) I offer a chart of useful and not-so-useful purposes for initiating a difficult conversation. In my thinking, Useful = I have some control over the desired outcome. Not useful = I don't.
Purposes That Are Not Useful
- Expecting people to change their behavior or beliefs for me
- Assuming they'll see their contribution to the problem
- Justifying my behavior so that I appear to be in the right
- Assuming they will agree with me
- Thinking, “How can I win this argument?”
Purposes That Are Useful
- Learning why they behave as they do or believe what they believe
- Acknowledging my contribution to the conflict
- Asking for their thoughts on what happened
- Expressing my view without expectation of agreement
- Asking, “What can I learn here?”
In my quest to hold these conversations in ways that are worth having--and not just contests to win or lose--I think more about the process I use than the outcome I want. I try to notice (metacommunicator in action!) when I get attached to an outcome or a judgment. In my experience, attachment to outcome only hinders my real purpose, which (for me) is connection. I'm always watching for how I get in my own way. For how I put up walls instead of building bridges.
In this series of posts, my purpose is to connect with my readers' intentions to be part of the solution. Whether the conflict you're having right now is in the relationship or world channel, we need your centered voice, modeling and inviting a process that chooses love, engages the M-C, and considers purpose.
P.S. -- I post new articles twice a month. One is published in my Ki Moments newsletter along with other articles and information on conflict and communication skills. I also post a separate story through my blog. If you're not receiving two articles each month and would like to, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'll make sure it happens!
P.P.S. -- Many thanks to Michelle A. Morin for her beautiful photo taken on Independence Pass in CO.