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Why Healthy Dialogue Matters

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We enter into hundreds of dialogues or conversations each and every day. Ordering coffee at the drive-thru is a dialogue. Delegating a task is a dialogue. Teaching your teenager how to do something new, when done effectively, is a dialogue.

There are two kinds of dialogue: Healthy dialogue and unhealthy dialogue, and they can appear the same to an observer. Also, a dialogue may feel very healthy to you without your realizing that the other person is walking away confused, hurt, questioning, or just totally unclear.

The thing I love most about engaging in dialogue is that it is an opportunity to learn about myself. When I show up as both an observer and a participant, my understanding of myself expands and deepens. As I say in every Navigating Challenging Dialogue™ workshop, “The only person I can really ever manage is myself,” so my theory is that I’d best discover as much about myself as I can.

Daniel Goleman, the thought-leader and Rutgers professor considered a forefather in the study of social and emotional intelligence says this–

The most effective leaders are all alike in one crucial way: they all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence. It’s not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant. They do matter, but … they are the entry-level requirements for executive positions. My research, along with other recent studies, clearly shows that emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership. Without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader.

Goleman’s work really resonates with me, and I sure hope I can hear him speak in person someday. But until then, I continue to be aware of how I show up in dialogue, and I teach others to do the same.

Why?

Because the energy, clarity, intention and expectations we bring to any interaction sets the stage for how emotionally charged the conversation may become.

Is there a conversation you want to have where just the thought of it makes your stomach anxious or your palms sweaty? At the end of this article, you can download a worksheet that will help you get clean and clear with your emotions prior to engaging in a challenging dialogue.

The most important thing I do when preparing to enter into an interaction I’m anxious about is to become very aware of how emotionally triggered I may be. Emotional triggers happen to all of us; they grow out of expectations and fears.

When I have a strong connection to what I expect the other person “should” do, or a fear about how they might respond, I’m already engaging my adrenal glands and preparing for fight or flight. After all, my adrenal glands are simply trying to provide me with the energy I need to care for myself and those I love in the face of a perceived danger. They’re just doing their job.

My work is to explore what I’m expecting and what I’m fearing. For example: Am I fearing that someone won’t like me if I set a boundary? Am I worried they won’t think I’m enough – smart enough, quick enough, clever enough, or skilled enough?

Not every conversation or interaction gets emotional, but sometimes, even when we don’t expect it, the simplest of conversations can suddenly take a turn. Red faces, clenched fists, and someone saying something about someone else’s mother can happen before we realize it. And that, my friend, is a sure sign of a simple conversation transforming into an emotionally challenging dialogue, right before our eyes and ears.

The toughest part of an emotionally challenging dialogue is that we rarely see it coming, and although the words said or emotions conveyed are the result of old triggers or wounds – usually not directly connected to what is happening in the here and now – they still sting and cause residual ill will for both the one speaking them and the one receiving them.

Haven’t we all walked away from a conversation where we surprised ourselves by turning emotional, saying, “Wow. What happened? I don’t know how I got so out of control over a simple discussion?” and are left feeling ashamed of or regretting our behavior?

These reactions are about old wounds and triggers, most of which are tough to get over or recognize because we acquired them well before we had verbal and cognitive processing skills. In our long-ago childhood, we might feel an emotion that didn’t feel good but we lacked the words to accurately describe it or the thinking skills to analyze it.

So now, when a situation occurs that feels even remotely similar, it triggers us into having that bad feeling again; a feeling we can’t quite describe but want to avoid at all costs – and that is when our fight or flight instinct kicks in. In the business world or in our personal lives, we generally seek to build positive connections and relationships, yet triggers sneak up on us.

Perhaps you are in a meeting and not able to be heard even though you have a great idea – that could be a trigger if you had a tough time being heard as a child. Or perhaps you get a sinking feeling that you might be left out of an important project when someone’s comment resonates with an early rejection.

In my Navigating Challenging Dialogue™ workshop, we spend time becoming more aware of what it feels like in our bodies when we are triggered. This awareness empowers us to recognize when we may be at risk of behaving in ways that create drama, decrease connection, and reduce clarity in conversations.

We also learn a six-step process for getting as clear and clean as we can with our communication, regardless of whether we are giving instructions, participating in brainstorming, delegating, or giving feedback. Initially, the worksheet you’ll find below will be helpful, but soon you’ll be doing the preparation in your head, in the moment.

Success in your business relationships and personal relationships is based on your awareness of how you show up and how that ultimately impacts you and those around you; so here’s to reducing unnecessary drama, conflict, regret, and shame by simply increasing your self-awareness!

Are you interested in learning how to clearer, cleaner, and more effective conversations? Attend an upcoming Navigate Challenging Dialogue™ workshop

Or are you a trainer, facilitator, consultant, or Human Resources professional who’d love to teach the people you work with to better navigate challenging dialogue? If so, apply today for our Navigating Challenging Dialogue™ Certified Trainer program.