The Problem With Conversations

Sophie Turner
Sophie Turner is a passionate Social Health Advocate, Communications Facilitator and Leadership Coach, empowering people - from professionals to leaders to family members - to strengthen the connection and quality of the core relationships in their lives. After a 20+ year career in marketing and communications, Sophie went in search of purposeful, transformational work that would enable her to play big and in more meaningful ways. What she has discovered was an alarming trend rapidly unfolding - the connection between a decline in mental wellness and social health to the increased dependency on technology as a primary means of communication. The convenience of technology has created an outlet that aids people to address their boredom, manage anxieties and fears, to fill intimacy gaps, and to distract them from dealing with the discomfort and messiness a potentially charged conversation may bring. The nuances and emotional cues once experienced by touch, expression and language in the most basic human-to-human conversations are now being replaced by brevity, swipe, and screen time. More and more, people are seen less and less. As a result, Sophie launched The Conversation Project, www.theconversationproject.ca, a space for people to learn about, cope, and overcome the anxieties associated with restoring real conversation with real people …. in a digital world. She works with clients to empower mental and social well-being, improve communications, and strengthen their most meaningful relationships.

Oct 11,2016

Your approach matters

 

Most people walk into conversations with a game plan.  Here’s the problem with that course of action:

 

You shut off access to your heart

You stop listening

You ‘leave’ the conversation before it’s done, many times before it even starts

You feel responsible to manage the aftermath of a truthful conversation with someone else

You limit your ability to express your true identity in front of others out of fear of criticism

 

Meaningful conversations are more comment when there is a vested interest in the relationship – with a spouse, an ageing parent, or extended family member. Yet, in a relationship of such importance, there is a less likelihood in having more proactive conversations with that person.

A proactive approach implies there is a level of trust, safety, and impartiality between the people in question and the topic under discussion. Most people do not experience this sense of ease and thus are not comfortable to have those much needed conversations at any given moment about highly sensitive topics.

Instead, most wait until they can wait no more. They hold off bringing up a sensitive topic until finally they become frustrated with the other person.  Rather than talking things through in the moment, they wait until they finally erupt. This disruptive behaviour can then easily include undertones of criticism, judgement, and even anger.

That is the core outcome of research I recently conducted for The Conversation Project.

 

A Conversation Mindset

We asked people to share with us their mindset around having meaningful conversations.  Here’s more of what they said:

Many said that while they were comfortable having a conversation about a meaningful topic, almost 80% feared the aftermath behaviour that it would create.

They believed being truthful left them over exposed to criticism, and thus, threatened their identity.

Instead, they held off talking about something important until they felt they could no longer keep quiet.  They found the process of having a meaningful conversation vulnerable.   Being vulnerable is not a place where most people willingly put themselves into experiencing or showing.

In fact, being vulnerable is so unfamiliar for people that they will do almost anything to avoid feeling it. Most people don’t understand how to interact with the feelings it brings up. It scares them into reactive mode, where they shut down and behaving in ways that are not beneficial to their relationship.

 

Relationships include more than one person

There are two types of engagement categories people (sub)consciously put themselves into.  For simplicity, let’s call them Engaged and DisEngaged.  One speaks to those who know their ‘truths’, and the other, those who go with the flow.

Engagers are those who know their truths. They are self-aware and have a good understanding of their emotions, triggers, beliefs, wants, desires, and what matters most to them.  They have opinions and are comfortable enough to share them and discussing what needs to be discussed, even when the topic has impact on others.  These are people who care to have meaningful conversation in person.

DisEngagers are those who go with the flow. They don’t like to rock the boat or allow others see what matters to them.  According to the research conducted, DisEngagers include past experiences and beliefs into their current conversations.  They ready themselves by relying on past protective measures in preparation and to justify the reactive behaviour they are expecting.

The word “Dis” has been added in front of Engaged because while they may have a level of self-awareness, there is a blockage, a belief, or a barrier that keeps them from being in tune with themselves.  This impacts their ability to connect easily with others.  The words have been blended together as this group is not lost, they are closer to being connected to themselves then they realize.

During an in person interview, one respondent thought out loud when asked a question, revealing her thought process of how she approaches a typical conversation. In this case, the conversation in question was with her ‘highly opinionated dad’.

She approaches having any conversation with her father by almost talking herself out of it every single time.

The day we spoke with her, it was her father’s birthday. One might conclude that calling to wish someone a happy birthday isn’t usually a difficult thing to do.  Yet, like most conversations with her father, she hesitated calling him. Instead, she asked herself a series of questions such as should I even call?  what do I say? what’s he going to say? How will I respond? What if he doesn’t listen to me? It doesn’t matter what I say, he won’t get me. Why bother….

None of her questions had anything to do with wishing him a happy birthday.  What was top of mind for her was the history of conversations with her father and how they typically unfolded.  She held onto beliefs created from past experiences, sacrificing her emotional well-being and potentially their relationship.

An Engager approaches conversation with their heart open. They listen, respond, and evolve the discussion.

A DisEngager thinks about their next comment before the other person finishes speaking.  They react.

An Engager can be at a loss for words as they tune into the experience unfolding.

A DisEngager has scripts at the ready, almost all the time.

An Engager are willing to tell those closest to them, how their behaviour has affected a situation

A DisEngager keep emotions bottled up until the bottle is overflowing

 

Dropping The Dis In Your Conversations

So where do you go from here?  For now, start with understanding your behaviour.  An increased level of awareness takes effort and the insight will already help you to shift and stay differently than you do today.

 

How do you approach your needed, meaningful conversations?

How do you react when you are approached for such a conversation?

How do you stay in conversation when the discussion becomes tough?

Where do you find yourself drifting when the conversation turns towards an unexpected area?

 

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