Difficult conversations: Emotional or rational?

...and the last call for my upcoming workshop 'Finding Common Ground' this weekend!

Have you been told that in a difficult conversation, disagreement or conflict, you must keep your emotions aside, and discuss the issue rationally?I know I certainly have.

The flaw with this line of thinking is this:Difficult conversations are difficult precisely because they have an emotional charge. And they have an emotional charge because they relate to something that matters to us. 

Whether we’re talking about politics, social issues, or something to do with our relationships, any conversation we feel challenged by is a conversation in which we have a strong preference, opinion or belief—all of which can stimulate intense feelings that tell us about our needs.To say that we can keep our emotions out of it would be to represent our experience only partially because we’re missing out on a very vital aspect of the issue: What does this really mean to me?

Bringing in our emotions into a difficult conversation is not the same as approaching a situation with reactivity.

When we don’t make space to connect with our emotional responses, we think and speak with a sense of urgency—and I know this urgency as a sign that I’m not connected or mindful.

When we pause to listen to our feelings about the conversation, we can enter the conversation feeling clear, calm and grounded—and with an awareness of our needs.4 Questions to ask yourself before you go into a difficult conversation:1. What is this conversation about? What happened?Asking this question helps me sift through my thoughts about what’s right and whats wrong; my judgements and my opinions to find the facts. What happened, or what did the other person do or say?2. How do I feel in this moment about what happened?

This question helps me be in the present moment—connect with my experience in the here and now.3. What matters to be about this conversation/situation?

This question helps me identify my needs—what are the needs I hold dear? What needs of mine are my feelings telling me about?

Taking a pause here to acknowledge these needs gives me some insight and groundedness; when I come from this awareness, I am no longer reacting to the other person but from an awareness of what this means to me.

And that can take me to step 4:4. Knowing what my needs are, what would I like to do or say next?

Being aware of my needs opens up choice and flexibility. Knowing what my needs are, I can choose to initiate a conversation with the other on this topic, or let it go; or take some other action altogether that’s likely to meet the needs I’ve identified. Try asking yourself these four questions to come back to mindfulness the next time you’re approaching a difficult conversation. Listening to your feelings in this way helps return to more clarity, self-connection and openness to listen to the other!

Quote of the week:

Resources for this fortnight

  1. Last week, I was in conversation with Duke Duchscherer, a facilitator of dialogue, about how we can bring polarized communities together; and what practices we can follow to engage in difficult conversations in our own connections. Watch the recording here.

  2. What is the backfire effect and how does it help us better understand our own opinions, beliefs, and how we engage with others who hold opinions different from our own?

  3. I made a list of 5 things I’ve learnt about managing conflict, and handling it differently. Read the Instagram post here.

  4. Article of the fortnight: Do we shape language or does it shape us?This weekend, I am offering a two-session workshop, ‘Finding Common Ground’, on applying Nonviolent Communication to conflicts, disagreement or differences in opinion. There are a few spots still open—click here to know more about the workshop or to sign up.On May 20&21, Living Bridges offers a 2-session workshop “Thriving in this Challenging World: Growing Your Capacity for Healing with Resonant Healing®” with Daya Lakshmi and Karine Audeguy, certified Resonant Healing practitioners. Join us to learn how NVC and neuroscience can help you grow your capacity to be with difficult situations, and heal from them.