Conversations are integral to life, relationships, work, and family. Yet my experience tells me, we often spend more time cleaning up what we said, than getting it right in the first place. Words have power. You only have to look at someone’s expression or listen to their reactions to note when words go off course, and then statements usually follow that sound something like:
“I was only kidding”, or “You’re over reacting”, or “I’m just being honest”, or “You don’t understand”, or “That wasn’t my intention”.
Well, what was your intention? You might say, “I just wanted to share information,” or “I simply wanted to let them know how I felt.” But the question remains, why? Why was it important to you? What were you aiming for?
Here are four different conversations with distinct aims that will help you become more conscious in your communication. They are:
1. A conversation for possibilities where the aim is discovery is a blue-sky process that causes you to roam outside the boundaries of the known, or business as usual. This conversation frees you to suggest ideas, consider different outcomes and ways to get there, and to look into something new without attachment to any particular outcome.
2. A conversation for action where the aim is accomplishment helps to move ideas into strategic plans for successful outcomes. Here is where you decide what actions to take to take, who specifically does what, and by when it will be done. These are conversations for agreement and commitment.
3. A conversation for connection where the aim is to build relationship is casual and about everyday topics. These conversations are seen as social lubricants, and opportunities for getting to know you through sharing stories. The purpose is to include, not exclude. Someone shares a story, and then you share a story, and on it goes. Sometimes the talk is small, or just about the weather. But even that banal conversation, gives us the ability to hear each other’s voice, banter, and get comfortable before meatier topics are addressed. It’s often the glue of relationships. Even old friends banter, catch up, and engage in small talk. But old friends and colleagues allow you to bypass the small talk and get right to the deeper, more meaningful conversations with statements like, I need your help, which quickly move you into conversations for possibilities and action.
4. A conversation for separation where the aim is to divide and conquer contains an overarching need to be right about a position. It has at the core exclusion instead of inclusion. It’s a conversation for posturing, and can contain outright lies. Like spreading gossip as fact, promising what can’t be fulfilled, or deliberately making something up where the only intention is to preserve or enhance one’s own image, making a joke or stretching the truth at someone else’s expense. The unfortunate side effect of this kind of conversation is that it can spread and grow, before someone can intervene with the facts. Spreading gossip or making thoughtless comments is a conversation for separation.
Careless communication can come from the most seasoned communicators. When President Obama first took office, he was speaking about former First Lady, Nancy Reagan, who was in Washington to witness the signing of a bill. He reported to the press that unlike Nancy Reagan, he wouldn’t be using astrology to make decisions. It was reported as a joke, but nonetheless could be seen as a joke at her expense. He immediately came back and said he was careless in his comments, and reaffirmed his respect for the former First Lady. He reminds us that even in positions of power, someone can correct a false impression, and bring their words into alignment with what they say they stand for in the world. We all have slips of the tongue, but if we don’t learn and correct misstatements, trust deteriorates and our relationships, both personal and in the world, suffer.
This week when you speak, think about what you are aiming to create with your words. Is your aim to open a conversation for possibilities, move into action, or make a connection? If so, then notice when conversations slide into separation, and make a shift to meet your aim.
Here’s an example a friend recently shared with me, where managers were using a meeting to gossip about people they work with. My friend, who is diligent in her commitment to conscious communication said, “I’m uncomfortable with this conversation. If you have a problem with someone, why not talk to them or get some coaching on how to have the conversation?” The room went silent and the gossiping stopped. The manager’s response was, “I didn’t mean anything by it.” It takes courage to talk to the individual instead of talking about them. It also takes courage to redirect a conversation for separation by looking into what’s possible or making a request.
Use your words wisely and make every count. Next week’s Uplifting Moment will continue this inquiry with more practices on making the shift from careless to conscious.
My love goes with you as you work with this uplifting moment.