Did you see the classic comedy, Groundhog Day, with Bill Murray? In the movie Bill Murray is forced to relive his day again and again until he changes himself to become a less selfish person. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groundhog_Day
Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler, the authors of Crucial Conversations, cleverly used the movie as a metaphor for unresolved problems (Crucial Conversations, McGraw-Hill, 2002, at page 205).
Many people I work with experience the Groundhog Day phenomenon in their lives and interactions, leading to unsatisfying conversations, a failure to have conversations about important things, and further conflict. Their dissatisfaction with this trend and their inability to change it leads them to look for help. In this article, I share some of the steps I ask people to consider in order to prepare them to have important conversations.
To start off, we talk about what had gone wrong that led to the point of asking a third party for assistance. Usually, one of the problems is that the people are not engaging in a conversation 1. They are more likely telling each other what is wrong with the other, and having two one-way complaints. If they are willing to have a different kind of interaction, one in which they are willing to learn as well as share, then we are ready to talk about doing it.
Let’s assume Mike has come to talk to me about his issues with his office-mate, Paul. Mike likes to work in an organized area; Paul seems to flourish in what Mike perceives as chaos. It grates on Mike’s nerves to work in a messy environment and he has asked Paul numerous times to keep the space clean. Paul hasn’t changed, and Mike interprets that as disrespect.
Here are some techniques I would use to assist Mike.
It doesn’t always work out the way people hope. Sometimes, despite lots of preparation and thinking, people revert back to the “bad, old ways” and point the finger at the other person, forgetting to listen. Other times, the other person doesn’t respond as hoped and does not engage in a curious conversation. But, as Punxsutawney Phil and Bill Murray know, Groundhog Day comes around with regularity, and it is important to keep showing face and trying. There are always more opportunities to practice. And with practice, comes improvement. It’s an evolution, and hope for resolution of conflict springs eternal.
Happy Groundhog Day! May your conversations be fruitful and curious.
There are some wonderful resources that helped me learn more about this subject and I am grateful to the authors below for their guidance and work. For more information about having challenging conversations, see:
Judy Ringer, “We Have to Talk: A Step-By-Step Checklist for Difficult Conversations,” http://mediate.com/articles/ringerJ1.cfm. (wonderful, easy-to-read article, available on this website)
Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler, Crucial Conversations, McGraw-Hill, 2002.
Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen, Difficult Conversations, Penguin Books, 1999.
1“Conversation [kon-ver-sey-shun], noun. Informal interchange of thoughts, information, etc. by spoken words, oral communication between person; talk; colloquy.” Disctionary.reference.com/browse/conversation
2 Recently I had a conversation with someone who had been deeply hurt by another person.. After thinking about these questions, he determined that while the person who hurt him had the physical and cognitive ability to have a conversation, the person would have no interest in having it. Coming to that conclusion brought a sense of relief and helped him move on.
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