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A Journey Through Conversational Storms

I think I’m right, and they think they’re right. It’s a classic clash of realities. Have you ever found yourself amid a conversation that felt like navigating a stormy sea? I sure have. What struck me is that we are holding different pieces of the same puzzle, looking at the same event, yet seeing it through uniquely tinted lenses. Our unique life experiences shape the lens through which we interpret these events. It’s not about who’s right or wrong rather it’s about appreciating the mosaic of perspectives, these intricate dances where missteps can lead to misunderstandings and rocky relationships. 

One trap we often fall into is assuming we can read minds. In the heat of a difficult situation, I’ve caught myself thinking I knew the intentions of the other person. The reality hit me hard—intentions are elusive unless explicitly stated. Making assumptions about others’ motives can turn a conversation into a guessing game and is nothing but a fast track to misunderstanding. So, instead of assuming, I try to shift my lens from presumption to clarification- to ask, to seek, and to be open to the tales others bring to the table.

Feelings, oh, the undercurrents of any conversation! According to Stone, Patton, and Heen, unexpressed emotions are like hidden rocks beneath the surface. They can create turbulence, leading to sarcasm, impatience, or sometimes even worse. During moments of heightened passion, rationality often surrenders to the intensification of emotion. To be able to recognize and address these hidden emotions is extremely useful in tough conversations. It’s like navigating through uncharted waters, unveiling hidden rocks of unspoken feelings. I think it can ensure genuine interactions and help build deeper connections in the delicate dance of human communication.

Blame, the culprit that often derails conversations. We all have experienced in our lives at many or at least some occasions that unconscious brain of ours always looking for a 3rd person to point fingers at and question, “Who’s to blame?” But it hit me that focusing on blame doesn’t solve the problem; it merely assigns fault. I’ve realized effective resolution to any problem isn’t about casting blame, it’s about learning, echoing the principles outlined in “Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In.”. Shifting the focus from judgment to understanding helps uncover the roots of the problem and plants seeds for future growth.

Over the past year, I came to realize the profound impact of language not only in the world of mediation/negotiation but also in our day-to-day conversations. In the early stages of my experiences with disputes, I often found myself using phrases such as “You always do this” or “But you never understand.” It quickly became apparent that these accusatory and confrontational statements acted as fuel on the fire, escalating conflicts rather than resolving the underlying issues. It was during a mediation simulation with one of my professors that I discovered the transformative power of switching to “I” and “And” statements. Integrating these words into my daily conversations, I began to observe how they could foster harmony among individuals.

When we consciously adopt the statement beginning with  “I,” we shift the focus from accusatory finger-pointing to personal ownership and self-expression. Instead of saying, “You always do this,” we can reframe it as “I feel frustrated when I perceive a recurring pattern.” This subtle change creates a space for dialogue, encouraging the other person to understand our perspective without triggering a defensive response.

Moreover, employing “And” statements adds a dimension to the communication toolbox. Rather than creating a binary dialogue of right and wrong, “And” allows for multiple perspectives to coexist. For instance, instead of saying, “But you never understand,” we can say, “I have my viewpoint, and I would like to understand yours as well.” This inclusive language fosters an environment where different pieces of the puzzle can be laid out on the table and each contributes to the mosaic of perspectives without devaluing others.

The use of “I” and “And” statements in the context of assumptions is a very powerful antidote. For example, when we say, “I assume this is your intention; can you share your perspective?” we open the door to clarification and prevent the potentially harmful guessing game. It allows us to acknowledge our unique lenses while inviting others to share their tinted perspectives. By doing so, we break free from the trap of mind-reading and embark on a journey of mutual understanding.

Similarly, in navigating the undercurrents of unexpressed emotions, adopting “I” and “And” statements serves as a compass. Instead of saying, “You make me angry,” we can express, “I feel a surge of frustration, and I want to understand what might be causing it.” This approach will not only acknowledge the presence of emotions beneath the surface but also invite the other person to share their emotional landscape. It transforms the conversation into a collaborative exploration, unveiling hidden rocks and fostering genuine connections.

Furthermore, when it comes to blame, the use of “I” and “And” statements encourage a shift from judgment to understanding. Instead of saying, “You’re to blame for this issue,” we can say, “I feel there’s a challenge, and I’m curious to understand the root causes together.” This subtle shift helps us move away from the blame game and positions the conversation towards a joint problem-solving approach. It highlights the importance of learning from the situation rather than assigning fault, paving the way for growth and resolution.

In my transformative journey, I realized that resolving conflict is not about avoiding it rather it is a profound act of transforming our discord into connection. I have learned the art of understanding the mosaic of perceptions from various sources such as ‘Difficult Conversations’ and ‘Getting to Yes’. My perspective has been reshaped by ‘Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box’. It highlights the importance of recognizing self-deception as a barrier to the connection. By steering away from the mind-reading trap, addressing emotions, and transitioning from blame to learning, I have crafted a comprehensive roadmap. This journey is further enriched by the insights provided in ‘Leadership and Self-Deception,’ reinforcing the idea that authentic connection emerges when we step out of the box of self-deception.

Resources;

  1. Stone, D., Patton, B., & Heen, S. (1999). Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most.
  1. Fisher, R., Ury, W., & Patton, B. (2011). Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In.
  1. Arbinger Institute. (2010). Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box.
  1. Office of Human Resources, The Ohio State University. Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most – A High-Level Summary of the Book by Stone, Patton, and Heen. Retrieved from difficult-conversations-summary.pdf (harvard.edu) 
                        author

Sarabjeet Wadhwa

Sarabjeet Wadhwa, LLB, MBA (Finance), B.Com, is a lawyer licensed by the Bar Council of India. Pursuing ADR Post-Graduate Certificate Program from Humber College, Toronto MORE >

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