Good conversations are key to a good life. Your ability to recruit, connect, sell and navigate difficult topics directly impact both income and happiness.
Trouble is…where do we learn this skill? Certainly not from our families! According to John Bradshaw, 96% of families are dysfunctional. Maybe this sounds like a too high number, or, maybe a too low number, depending on your perspective 😉
A dysfunctional family equates to dysfunctional patterns of communication. Dysfunctional simply defined means ‘does not work’. So if we only learn how to communicate in a way that doesn’t work, and our happiness depends on good communication, what to do?
Luckily, social scientists and researchers have been on the case for decades…studying and researching and researching and studying and making up theories…and writing big books about their theories with statistics of research studies to prove them (I know because I had to read such books in college!).
Unfortunately, researchers mostly just know how to do research, put people through tests, report findings and make up theories. Not necessarily helpful in the real world…especially when the sample subjects are all from the same demographic…college students trying to get extra credit by participating in their professors studies (I know this because yes, I volunteered for many a study such as this!)
How do we translate those findings into what to do in real life with real people? And more importantly how do we even know what good communication is if we’ve never had it?
Well if you’re interested in good communication, below are some tips. And if you’re not interested in good communication, below are still some tips 😉 Just read on anyway and give it a try!
First let’s define good communication. When asked most people say they feel, “connected, energized, inspired, ready to take action, seen, loved, accepted…” after a good conversation. If both people feel this way, we could refer to it as a ‘win-win’ model.
Now let’s define bad communication, also known as ‘default communication’. Authors Alan Robertson and Graham Abbey in Managing Talented People say, “Because dialogue is such an automatic part of life, we don’t notice that patterns exist and we rarely treat it as deliberately as we might.”
Without conscious awareness, we simply communicate in the way we learned growing up (unless you’re one of the 4 percent) that means with dysfunctional patterns or, our default setting. Fighting.
Dysfunctional patterns consist of blaming, complaining, attacking and defending to name a few. Any of these qualities in a conversation will not lead to a win-win situation. Win-win simply put means create cooperative movement.
Now, what are qualities leading to good communication (and a good life)?
1-Reach a shared understanding about what’s actually happening in the conversation, what you are talking about
2-Determining clearly what you want, and what the other person wants
3-Exploring possible outcomes together
4-Agreeing on course of action (even if it’s just setting up a new appointment to talk again)
5-Becoming Aligned-this does not mean you agree with each others’ point of view, it just means you agree on what actually happened in the conversation, and you are both clear what to do next.
6-Each person feels seen, heard, appreciated.
What makes it nearly impossible to have good communication is
1.) we rely on our subjective opinions (projection, assumption, past experience) to read what is happening in the conversation, rather than actual events and
2.) the more emotional we are, the less likely we are able to rely on actual events and state them clearly.
So, for the most part we are responding to a fictional conversation (like a movie) playing in our mind rather than responding to the real conversation that is actually unfolding before our eyes. Without accurately reading the terrain and the street signs (metaphorically speaking of course!) how could we possibly hope to reach a shared understanding with the person we are talking to??…much less be able to direct the dialogue in a positive direction?
When Person A communicates based on this fictional conversation in his/her mind, Person B might become confused, because they are not privy to the script of the movie Person A has created in his/her mind.
So person B has to operate from what Robertson and Abbey refer to as the ‘crazy’ space. ‘Crazy’ space is when you don’t know what is happening in the conversation, don’t know what you are talking about, can’t determine what you want and are unable to reach a shared understanding with the person you are talking to about what is happening. A fight usually ensues ….blaming, defending, attacking, and ultimately, no fun!
Unless those qualities of default communication are fun for you (ie. if you’re a lawyer and do that for a living) then you will want to learn another way.
Stay tuned for part II of this blog entry to see examples, and learn two tools to override the default settings, acknowledgement and event-speak.