By Lisa Brick
This is the Holiday Season, the season that bombards us with songs of peace on earth and goodwill to humanity and images of happy, laughing families and perfect gifts to buy and receive. Rather than being able to retreat to a cave to figure yourself out and how you got where you are, you’re thrown into planning and appearing in social situations where conversations can go from neutral to crucial in the blink of an eye, destroying anything enjoyable.
This season can be different because you can be different.
The characteristics of a crucial conversation are threefold: opinions vary, emotions run strong, and the stakes are perceived as high.
When handled adroitly these potentially explosive conversations can be defused without giving up or giving in…by being clear and intentional that not only is this not the time or place to have battles, it is a special time to exhibit good will, generate peace at home, and create an environment as conducive to a happy, laughing family as possible.
The authors of Crucial Conversations, a book first published in 2002 yet more relevant than ever, studied individuals who are extraordinarily successful in taking high conflict conversations and creating harmonious outcomes. Not everyone got what they initially advocated for yet stakeholders embraced the outcomes because their opinions and ideas were heard, they felt safe expressing their points of view, and they were invited to participate in designing new approaches to situations in which the outcomes would significantly impact their lives. Those who could not see possibility in a new approach left to pursue their visions elsewhere, without insult or embarrassment. The book explains the approach all of these highly effective people utilize to stop individuals from arguing and join in dialogue to resolve problems and creating possibilities with the intention of all involved benefiting.
Crucial conversations can go three ways:
- The parties involved devolve into arguing positions. When this happens you find yourself either defending your point of view from perceived or actual attack or attacking your conversational partner’s point of view.
- One or both of the parties retreat into silence. When this happens you or your conversational partner stop engaging by closing heart, mouth, and mind.
- One person leads the conversation towards true dialogue: True dialogue is when it is safe for the free flow of meaning between two or more people with the intention of coming to an amicable agreement or settlement.
Dialogue – an exchange of ideas or opinions on a particular issue…with a view to reaching an amicable agreement or settlement.
If you are contemplating, in the midst of, or emerging out of a divorce you are highly familiar with the first two ways crucial conversations go down. The third, while unfamiliar, is the road to peace when opinions vary, emotions run strong, and stakes are high. Here are a few tips you can use immediately to de escalate conversations over the holiday season and beyond, should you choose…
Stop talking as soon as you realize a conversation is escalating to crucial so you can reroute yourself. Neither of you are feeling safe anymore.
- Step Back from the content of the conversation and
- Remember what you desire from the day, the event, the season.
- State your desire without blame or accusation:
“This holiday season I’d really like both of us to enjoy our family. After New Years I’d really love to come up with ways that make us both satisfied with our lives and our relationship, however it is changing.”
Re-establish Safety in the conversation by stopping any debate. To re-establish safety you, not him/her will need to demonstrate mutual respect.
You are not agreeing, giving up, or giving in. You are acknowledging that you can listen to and care about his/her perspective, regardless of agreement or the status of your marriage or divorce. This takes discipline and will provide an enormous return by reducing conflict and costs and increase your capacity to co-parent successfully.
Mutual respect is a condition for dialogue: “I respect that you and I see things differently.”
Re-direct the conversation. The devil is in the details so for the holiday season, when conversations turn crucial be aware, and practice the following:
- Commit to finding a deeper mutual purpose between you and your conversational partner/s. Start with Heart and move to head. Stop arguing. Listen for any areas, however small, where you are aligned. Go there.
- Recognize the purpose behind the strategies you are both using. The way you want it to be or he/she wants it to be is your strategies. Your ‘why’ – why you want it to be a certain way – is your purpose. Step back from the content of the conversation – which is generally focused on strategies – and explore the why, the purpose behind the strategy. This allows for new approaches to jointly meeting purposes.
- Invent a mutual purpose when you are unable to find one by going deeper to more encompassing goals.Seek to discover an objective that is more powerful and compelling than where you are stuck.
- Brainstorm new strategies out of mutual purpose that meet, as best as possible, the needs of all involved.
You may be thinking that this approach is impossible, doomed, unrealistic. How would you know unless you’ve studied and practiced it? How often are you in judgement? What questions did you stop asking long ago because you assumed you knew the answers? At what point did two people who joined their lives together determine that the other was hopeless, helpless, or horrid?
This happens when individuals get trapped in cycles of arguing and miss opportunities to step out of being right and into being curious. This approach to relationships will not keep two people together yet it will allow them to go their separate ways in greater peace and harmony. After all, isn’t this “the season of goodwill and peace on earth”? I invite you to try new approaches to creating a season of goodwill and peace in your home. You can make the season how you want it.
Lisa Brick, Journey Beyond Partner
Our team of coaches at JBD is passionate about helping men and women navigate the emotional difficulties of relationships, breakups and divorce. We work together with you to open the possibility that your current relationship challenges can lead to a rewarding voyage of self-discovery and an immensely more pleasing life experience. Together we create a path to clarity. Find out if Coaching is right for you, and accept my gift of one FREE session.