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Blocks to Succeeding at Difficult Conversations (and how to overcome them)

By Ron Kertzner - August 3, 2016

When engaging in masterful conversations, there are two primary orientations people engage in: one is reactive; the other is creative. Our reactive tendencies are triggered when we somehow feel threatened by the conversation. Examples include: “If I don’t prove my point, I will be seen as not being a leader.” “I am my point of view.” “I don’t want to stir up conflict because I’ll be seen as disrespectful.” “I better not raise my point of view so I can stay safe.”
 Three Troublesome Mindsets
Most of us learned these reactive patterns at a very young age, so we’ve grown quite accustomed to them. Adult learning theorists would suggest that we react in one of three ways (or some combination of them): complying (needing to belong or please, little or no advocacy), protecting (being distant, arrogant, critical, advocacy but very little inquiry) or controlling (autocratic, driven, all advocacy all the time).
Three Steps for Changing the Game
The challenge in mastering difficult conversations is to first become of aware of our reactive pattern(s). Think back to a difficult conversation you had recently. Did you notice yourself leaning more to complying, protecting or controlling?  Was it some combination of two out of three or all three?
Once you’ve identified your reactive pattern,  the trick then is to not act from it. See it as a speeding train that you decide not to get on! In the moment, you can take a quick break (if the circumstances permit) or otherwise take a deep breath and reconnect to an intention to have a creative conversation.
What is a creative conversation? It’s a conversation where you can speak ‘your truth’, hear the other’s perspective, accomplish the task and preserve the relationship. It involves a healthy mix of advocacy, inquiry and reflection. We move from a right – wrong mindset to one of mutual learning; from a blame orientation to joint problem solving; from blasting them with our perspective to empathizing with both their feelings and perspective.
No matter how much we understand the skills of advocacy, inquiry and reflection, we’ll have a tough time employing them in a healthy way when we operate from a reactive orientation. So take the time to become aware of them while you are practicing the core skills of masterful conversations.
The combination of awareness plus competency leads to mastery!!