Believe it or not, we have tremendous control over our conversations with other people, in that we have the power to greatly influence how it ends. But, in order to control how positive or negative a conversation becomes, we need to have awareness of the primary influencers that can either improve things or contribute to things taking a turn for the worst.
All it takes is some attention and focus from to make sure that you don’t fall into the typical pitfalls or traps that can sabotage an attempt to handle a conversation and keep it positive. Pulling of the task of turning negative conversations into positive ones takes a keen awareness and presence found in master communicators. If you want to know what they do, here is a blueprint you can follow to help you turn a those potentially negative conversations into positive ones.
Whenever we tell someone what we think about what another is doing or how they’re handling a situation we can be headed for trouble. All it takes is something like, “I think that you’re not taking this situation seriously enough” to make things difficult for you. Here’s why:
When you start out with “I think,” you’re beginning with an opinion. You’re interpreting their actions and behaviors and telling them what you have picked up based on what you’ve observed. You may be correct in your diagnosis, but when you start with “I think,” and follow it with a “you” (or “you’re” in this case), you are making it about them, rather than focusing on what’s going on inside of you. This can sound like an accusation to another.
As you finish the sentence with “seriously enough,” again, this is an opinion. You’re opening yourself up to a debate. How seriously is “seriously enough?” And, what would someone have to do to show you that they are being the “just right,” amount of being serious, without being “too serious?” Using “too” or “not enough” is based on opinion, and it’s a preference, but you are implying wrongness when you use those words because you’re saying that only you know the “just right” amount of seriousness necessary.
If we think that our way is the right way, or if we believe that we’re right and other people are wrong, this can lead to problems as well. Many of the struggles I’ve seen with other people in simply getting along and understanding others is a failure to be empathic. They don’t seem to be able (or willing) to consider what things may be like for the other person, or they spend little to no time being curious as to what it must be like to be in the situation in which another finds themselves.
Simply allowing another person the opportunity to finish a complete sentence or share their opinion or perspective can be a tremendous help and show respect for the other person. Giving time in our own conversations for space so that another person can process and actually speak is a big help too. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been part of conversations during which I was unable to share my perspective or even speak because the other person in the conversation was doing all the talking and not leaving any space or time for a reply or comment. To try to overcome this yourself, depending on who is talking, after you or the other person is done completing a sentence or articulating a thought, blink your eyes twice in succession (one immediately followed by another) before speaking. This gives the other person a small window to speak if they want to.
If someone rolled their eyes, shrugged their shoulders, and sighed, that’s what they did. If you toss in an evaluation of those observations and ask why they are getting impatient, frustrated, upset, or even more egregious descriptions of their behavior, you’re setting yourself up for a defensive and non-productive response. Even if they are all those things, your diagnosis doesn’t help. If you would say, “I noticed you sighed just there. What’s going on?” you are opening up to a conversation, rather than an argument about what the other person did (or did not do.
People say “please” in the strangest ways. Someone could be making fun of the size of your nose, and they could really be asking “could you please help me feel more secure about how I appear to others?” If we can try to identify what a person’s “pain point” is, and what they are needing, you can “listen through” their sometimes not-so-nice words and find that they are really asking for you to help them. The problem is that when others are asking “please” in a way that can offend or upset others, they’re pushing people away from themselves instead of making it desirable for others to actually help them.
When you are listening to another person and what they are saying, try to figure out how they’re feeling at the moment. Do you think they’re frustrated? Angry? Fearful? And what is causing that feeling to emerge? What is it that they value?
For example, if someone values their time, they may be complaining about how something is a waste of their time. They are frustrated because they have a need to spend their time wisely and efficiently. They are really asking “Could you please help me make wise and efficient use of my time?” but they are expressing their frustration in a way that can come across as a criticism or a complaint to others.
Once you’ve allowed the other person to express themselves completely, without interrupting, as you’ve tried to picture things from their perspective, and at the same time listening for the “please,” you may want to ask for clarification. You may want to repeat what is their need or speak to their feelings, to see if they give verbal confirmation. If you can identify their need, feeling, and rephrase their negatively expressed statements in a way that links the need to the feeling, you’ll make a positive connection, and the conversation will move in a positive direction.
The other person will know that you’re attempting to connect with them at the heart, and really understand what is going on. Not only will they appreciate you listening to them, but they’ll also know that you’re trying to help them get whatever it is that they want, need, or value.
You could say something like, “I can really understand how it can be so frustrating when this information can be shared by an email, rather than having everyone sit in a meeting and listen to someone read the information off of a piece of paper.” If you connect with that person, they’ll agree, and they will know you “get” them and what they’re trying to say.
Finally, if you can connect on the feeling and the need, you can work with them to figure out a solution that works for them to meet their needs or help them get what they want or value. You can ask them for their ideas or what they think would be a reasonable solution to this situation. The idea is that this becomes a conversation where ideas and feelings and values are shared, so that everyone is heard and respected. It’s important to take things to the next level, and also share your needs and values, especially if meeting another person’s needs seem mutually exclusive to you meeting yours. That’s why…
Remember that there doesn’t need to be a winner or loser in a conversation. If you and the other person can really speak to the needs and values you both share, you will be able to continue the conversation until you get to a point where the needs and values of both are honored or met with a solution that works for everyone. If you can only find a compromise, that means that the needs or values of one or more have not been met or recognized.
It’s possible for any potentially negative conversation to become a positive one, but it takes work. It takes listening power, respect, time, space, and empathy. As long as both people are willing to share from the heart, and as long as one person is able and willing to facilitate the exchange and guide it along, there should be no reason why the conversation shouldn’t end up with a positive outcome that works for all.