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We are all operating in close quarters this Spring. What are we talking about? Anything meaningful? We can maximize this time of relative stillness to take inventory of our relationships, life, and our closets. We have a rare opportunity to begin some crucial conversations that might change how we move forward from this crisis. Crucial conversations are powerful because they have the ability to transform our thinking. What are you thinking and talking about? Anything crucial?

3 Elements of a Crucial Conversation

  1. Opinions vary
  2. High Stakes
  3. Emotions run strong

A crucial conversation involves an exchange of information that can impact the intimacy in your significant relationship, the quality of a friendship, and/or the direction you choose to take in your life. We aren’t talking about the weather, what’s for dinner, or even the corona virus. In crucial conversations we risk being vulnerable to get closer to the truth of something important.

As a psychologist, I have the privilege to be part of crucial conversations with clients every day. Transformation becomes possible as someone grows closer to their authentic self through honest dialogue. What are some of the conversations you have been avoiding? Consider using time gained from cancelled plans to reflect on how some of your relationships may be watered down by unspoken truths that involve forgiveness, apology, gratitude, regret . . . big ticket truths that can bring us closer. What keeps us from talking so meaningfully?

Manage the Fear

FEAR is the feeling we have when we are about to leave a comfort zone. When you consider entering into a crucial conversation, fear will trick you into believing that you have a terrible choice: Face the truth or stay safe (in the relationship). In preparing to have a crucial conversation we have to manage the fear. We need to be intentional in how we have the conversation so we can be truthful AND stay safe. We need to gear up for some real dialogue.

A Crucial conversation that goes well is a DIALOGUE.

Start with Heart

People who are skilled at dialogue focus on the why of communication from the very beginning. They address the fear by starting with the heart. Why do I want to be truthful in this communication and what do I really want? If I want to be honest with my loved one about a problem in our relationship, I will be intentional in communicating in a way that is respectful and caring to make the relationship better. How would I behave if I wanted to be honest AND respectful?

Each of us has a pool of information that is based on our own life experiences and learning. When we enter into a dialogue, we are sharing our truth and adding to the other person’s pool of information. This is where the transformation can happen, because together we have more information. This shared pool brings us emotionally closer.

Look For Safety

When we are communicating through dialogue we look for signs of an open mind, listening, and engagement in ourselves and others. MRI studies show that two people in dialogue show similar brain waves. In a crucial conversation that is going well our brains literally sink up. When we are speaking to add to the pool of information and listening to understand we are in a safe dialogue. As soon as we digress into talking to win, or defending our position, we have triggered the fear response. Fear, which sometimes shows up as anger, is a clear signal that we need to return to safety.

How do we return the conversation to safety when the fear response takes over and we shut down or begin monologuing?

Return to Dialogue

Manage the fear by returning to the heart. Take a few breaths. Maybe interrupt the conversation “wow, this is not how I want this to go, I care too much about this conversation to argue. Let’s take a break until we can get calm.” Then seek out the mutual purpose (improve the relationship) to lower the emotions and return to dialogue with mutual respect.

Learn the Skills

Great news! Each of the skills of crucial conversations can be learned; Manage the fear, start with heart, look for safety, return to dialogue are all emotional intelligence skills that can be practiced and improved. We are looking at a long haul of stay-at-home, with plenty of time to practice reflection and crucial conversations.

In January I chose the word RESTORE, to guide my steps for 2020. I had no idea we would be facing stay-at-home restrictions in a few short months. Along with everyone else, my planner is filled with strike outs and post-postponements. While some people may choose to de-clutter their closets during this time of confinement, I’ve decided to have crucial conversations with myself about decluttering my lifestyle. Over the next few weeks I’m taking a deep dive into my planner and my priorities to restore some balance to my over-scheduled life. Are there crucial conversations with yourself that you have been procrastinating?

Want to read more about it? Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High (2012).

Whether you choose to begin crucial conversations with others or yourself, I wish you the transformational power of a crucial conversation.

Health and Happiness,

Dr. Lisa Marotta