Self-awareness Fosters Healthier Dialogue

photo by Gabriela Arp

August Contemplation: 
Effective Communication—writing and speaking
August Post #3

I’m re-reading a book, a book I think our government should pay every citizen to read—friends, spouses, students; parents, bosses, teachers; co-workers, co-volunteers; and most especially politicians. This book, in my opinion, should not only be implemented into our healthcare plans, but be put into practice through consistent community-planned workshops, places where we learn how to talk—places where self-awareness fosters healthier dialogue. 

Book Cover of Crucial Conversations

The book I’m referring to is Crucial Conversations, defined as “a discussion between two or more people where stakes are high, opinions vary, emotions run strong.” p. 3

Sound familiar? 

The authors, Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler, say “…negative feelings we hold in, the emotional pain we suffer, and the constant battering we endure as we stumble our way through unhealthy conversations slowly eat away at our health. In some cases the impact of failed conversations leads to minor problems. In others it results in disaster. In all cases, failed conversations never make us happier, healthier, or better off.” p. 16

My book, Momentous Living, begins in the heat of one of these failed conversations:

“The force of what happened could have propelled a jet plane into the atmosphere. Instead, the unexpected and uncontrollable burst of my pounding fists and outraged words left wreckage in need of repair—wreckage of my marriage, of hurting hearts, of scarred lives. Differing opinions of the what, when, why, and how it happened each captured a mere piece of the whole. But one thing is for sure: a well-intentioned plan had been grounded.”

When to Enter a Crucial Conversation

I reserve crucial conversations, those that require commitment, energy, and time, for my inner circle of loved ones and for those professionals with whom I need to keep a good working relationship. With valued people who lie on the outskirts of my personal and professional lives, I simply aim to model respect and good listening skills. And I have learned that sometimes it’s best to not enter into conversations with some people at all—those who are demeaning, manipulative, hurtful, attacking, or untrusting. These people, probably due to a myriad of reasons that help explain but certainly not justify insecure behaviors, are not interested in and/or capable of working toward productive dialogue. 

But when an unexpected and uncontrollable burst of pounding fists and outraged words with a loved one leave wreckage in need of repair, it’s worth asking, What the heck? Where did that come from? And why am I so frustrated and angry? It’s worth a crucial conversation. 

Braving our Whys

Getting to the heart of our Whys may be daunting, draining, and perhaps more insightful than we care to explore, but if we do not brave our Whys, then we’ll be left sitting in a great big “I don’t know why I did that,” while still expecting others to forgive and overlook. Or worse, continue wondering what’s wrong with everyone else and not take responsibility for our piece(s) in all the brokenness. Self-awareness contributes to the health and wellness of all.

Crucial conversations provide safety and trust. “When it’s safe, you can say anything…This is a pretty remarkable claim. Think about it. We’re suggesting that people rarely become defensive simply because of what you’re saying. They only become defensive when they no longer feel safe. The problem is not the content of your message, but the condition of the conversation.” pgs. 55-56.

I am re-reading Crucial Conversations because I need to. Our world, my world, feels angry and antagonistic. Too often, it feels unsafe. I need to be reminded of how to engage in healthier conversations when stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions run strong; in other words how to take responsibility for my part in a better world, for my part in a better self. I want to contribute to safer conditions.

Will you join me? 

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