Conversations are critical in our relationships. And yet we often go into them without really knowing how a conversation should be held for the greatest positive impact.
For example, in our work we may be faced with the need to tell our co-workers that our work hasn’t been good enough. This is especially the case sometimes for leaders. But how do we do this? And how could we have done it better?
We can go into it in a critical frame of mind and say something like the bare facts about a report that shows things have gotten worse rather than better.
But what is the impact of this? Jacqueline M. Stavros in her book “Conversations Worth Having: Using Appreciative Inquiry to Fuel Productive and Meaningful Engagement” says that this type of conversation is “depreciative” because it leaves everyone feeling demoralized.
A better way to approach this heavy conversation would have been to ask what has been working well. Then when you hear examples of good approaches, you can ask how these can be applied throughout the whole team.
How should you prepare for a conversation?
Before you even start a conversation, the first step is to take a step back. Breathe. Think about the unseen biases and influences that you may be bringing to the table. How can you go beyond them and approach the topic with a more open inquisitive mind? Start by having a conversation with yourself. Be curious. Ask yourself what is the bigger picture.
How can you apply this approach to your relationship conversations?
Focus on the positive. Even if there are numerous bad examples, look for the good in the situation. How can you build on that?
Even if the topic in your mind is wanting your partner change a particular behavior like leaving dirty dishes in the sink, think about the bigger picture. How can you get to a deeper level?
Before you start, think about how you were brought up and why this may have led you to being obsessional about having a clean sink at all times.
Start by being appreciative as this will make your partner more receptive. Think about the things your partner is doing right. Tell them how much you appreciate it when they do these things.
Ask questions. Try and find out what is going on when they end up leaving the dishes in the sink. What is making it hard for them to clean the dishes? Are they afraid of putting the pots in the dishwasher? Why do dishes not matter to them? Don’t they find they get in the way when they are trying to wash the vegetables? Does it happen when they get an urgent work call and have to leave in a hurry?
Then you might ask “how can we come to some agreement” about the issue at hand. Try and find the win win solution not just the first one that comes to mind.