By Marlene Chism
Observe the conversations in your workplace. Do you hear your colleagues and employees talking about what’s possible, or are they complaining about the past? Are conversations moving forward or spiraling down? Do people support each other or gossip? Here are eight practices to elevate your conversations in 2018.
- Get present
Noise and distraction are everywhere. If you can maintain the discipline of really listening to what the other person is saying you will stand out. The other person senses your energy and magnetism even if they can’t put their finger on it.
What’s required? Stop looking at your smart device when you are engaged in conversation. When you truly aren’t available, just say so rather than pretending to listen. Most people appreciate discipline and honesty.
- State your intention
Know your intention before an interaction to avoid getting distracted. For example, “My intention for this conversation is to make sure we are on the same page,” is a better direction than shooting from the hip and talking about all the things that aren’t working in the relationship.
What’s required? Setting intention requires you to let go of the seduction of blame. Intention guides your thoughts and helps you focus on future outcomes versus past mistakes.
- Stop playing verbal ping-pong
It’s easy to fall into a black hole about who is right, who is wrong, and what’s not fair. These communication habits indicate the tendency to get distracted. Stop taking the bait and you’ll elevate the conversation.
What’s required? Become aware of your triggers. Triggers often include the need to change or fix someone else, the need to be understood or the need to prove a point. Instead, work from your intention (tip No. 2) and then redirect the conversation.
- Become curious
When someone rubs you the wrong way, it’s easy to engage in drama. For example, if you work with someone who is always sarcastic, you try to one-up them the next time. This kind of conversation spirals down. Instead of getting tangled up in game-playing, become curious.
What’s required? Don’t let anger take over. Take a breath and instead of reacting, respond thoughtfully with a focused question. “Why did you say that? Is there some hidden meaning?” Simply asking often causes the other person stop the pattern. Seek first to understand rather than to change.
- Stop defending
Criticism makes you want to punch back. Instead, take a breath and take it on the chin. Don’t worry about being a doormat or allowing bullying behavior. There’s time to defend later if you find it necessary.
What’s required? Let the other person say what they have to say. Even if you feel misunderstood, pause and take several breaths before responding. Very often, when the other person feels understood, they become more balanced and more reasonable. Once you have listened, then you can strategize about your next steps.
- Address the elephant in the room
Your rain-making sales professional belittles other employees instead of mentoring them. Your spouse doesn’t do their fair share. In both cases a difficult conversation needs to take place but instead of initiating a conversation to seek change, you avoid the uncomfortable feelings.
What’s required? Feeling uncomfortable is a sign that there’s something that needs to be addressed. Don’t blame or accuse. Instead, highlight the observable behavior. “I observed that when Stacy needed help last week, you made a joke instead of teaching.” Then count to three to wait for a response. Remain curious and then ask for the behavior change you want.
- Stop complaining
Make a commitment to stop complaining. You have to lead by example. Your next step as a leader is to help others shift their complaints into positive requests
What’s required? Ask yourself, “What is the opposite of the complaint?” This gives you a clue as to what is desired. Turn negative complaints into positive requests. Rather than saying “We always argue, and I’m tired of arguing,” say instead, “I want us to come to an agreement.”
- Redirect the conversation
When the conversation goes south, it’s time to redirect and course-correct. Hint: Redirecting is the skill you need for practice (see “Stop complaining”)
What’s required? Notice the urge to engage in nonproductive dialogue. Next, acknowledge the other person who wants to get you off track. For example, “No, it probably isn’t fair, but what we are talking about is…“
When you elevate your conversations, you become a more effective leader, increase productivity and you get different results. If you find yourself getting pulled into ping pong, distractions and drama remember this: The one with clarity always navigates the ship.