Having a difficult conversation is, um…difficult. But if we have a process and know push words, difficult conversations can become less fraught. Knowing the right words to use at the right time and with the right manner can make our lives easier.
Before I get into the detail of having a crucial conversation, here is a question. If conflict were a dog, what type of dog would it be? When asked that question, most people choose a dog that either creates fear, like a pit bull or blue heeler, or a small yapping dog that creates annoyance or anger.
The flight (fear/worry) and fight (annoyance/anger) responses are hard wired into our brains. So, when faced with interpersonal conflict – the need to have a crucial conversation – it’s easy to feel the emotions that stem from the flight or fight response.
Good, healthy relationships can only endure when conflict is dealt with openly and honestly. This prevents stagnation and stimulates curiosity and creativity. Groups suffer more from the lack of conflict that they do from conflict itself. Lack of conflict in groups is a symptom of apathy.
The VIP process: Validate, Investigate, Problem Solve
Conflict can cause anger, distrust, frustration, fear and a host of other emotions – and if these feelings are not validated first, rational problem solving is inhibited.
When we’re angry or fearful our adrenalin flows faster, and our strength increases by about 20 percent. The liver, pumping sugar into the bloodstream, demands more oxygen from the heart and lungs.
The veins become enlarged and the critical centres of our brain, where thinking takes place, do not perform as well. In short, the blood supply to the problem-solving part of our brain is decreased because under stress a greater portion of blood is diverted to the body’s extremities – to help us with fight or flight.
By acknowledging or validating the emotions, the blood flow increases to the problem-solving part of the brain and we start to calm down.
Listen to understand, not to agree or disagree. We need to listen to understand in order to accurately validate what others are feeling and what we’ve heard them say.
We can’t expect others to listen and not interrupt us if we don’t listen to them without interrupting. Even wait a couple of seconds once they’ve finished in case they’ve got more to say.
When responding, do so in a calm and gentle tone or manner.
Parent manner (angry tone): “Don’t raise your voice at me. You’re being unreasonable”
Child manner (scared tone): “I didn’t mean to make the mistake and I’m trying my best”
Adult manner (calm tone): “You’re disappointed that we didn’t get the information right the first time?”
Be aware of your thoughts. Our thoughts trigger emotions, both rational and irrational. For example, “This &^% is having a go at me and is being rude and aggressive” is irrational. “he’s not having a go at me, he’s just expressing his frustration in a really inappropriate way, he’s not attacking me personally” is rational.
How the VIP process works
Them: “What on earth were they thinking when they made that decision! How stupid! No wonder this place is stuffed”
Us: (validate) “So you’re dumbfounded and frustrated by the mistake we made in the products you ordered last week?”
Them: “Yes” (said we less intensity) How hard can it be?”
Us (validate) “It is such a simple task that we didn’t get right”
Them: “Yes” (said in a calm tone)
Investigate: Ask permission to ask questions. This is a subtle way of asking someone to shut up, especially when they’re over talking or being dominant.
Us: (use their name) “So Bob, what would you like us to do to fix the problem?”
Them: “Well, I suppose everyone can make mistakes. Can you put the product on the next available truck you’ve got heading my way and everything will be all right”?
By staying calm in our adult ego state we’re better equipped to solve the problem, even if the solution is to agree to disagree.
A person attending a training course once said “If someone repeated back to me what I just said, I’d thump him. This is stupid” The reply “So you’d get angry and violent if I repeated back to you what you just said to me, is that right?” He said, “Yeah, that’s right” and he didn’t get angry or thump me!
Give others the VIP treatment…especially at home.