Difficult Conversations : a Game of Chess or Boxing?

It is not very rare that we witness a conflicting situation at work. There are opposing points of view, one of which could be the best for the firm or there could be the third one that is the best. Often, it is the personalities, their backgrounds, their egos, the power equations in the firm and the organization culture which come on the way of a calm and well-thought out discussion. The guiding principles for making a decision becomes blurred and the discussion threads get entangled. The participants conversing become rooted to their respective points of view and become blind to the others. At times, the conversation turns ugly and in the other cases, it never takes off. In either situation, the purpose doesn’t get fulfilled. How does one promote effective conversation?

Firstly, it is a good idea to clarify the objective of the conversation and commit to fulfilling the objective right at the start. Skilled communicators show leadership by defining the objective sharp enough – neither too broad nor too narrow. They try to start the conversation on a level playing field as all participants will be fairly committed to the cause, focused on the topic and unlock themselves from their own positions. Again, during the conversation, it is important that one summarises the progress made against the objective of the discussion and the areas of consensus. This helps building commitment to resolving the issue rather than deciding which point of view is better than the other and dominating the dialogue.

Secondly, it is important to stay calm, use neutral tone of voice and state facts rather than getting judgemental. This is easier said than done. One needs to practise this over and over again, especially when one has a personality trait of being relatively low on emotional stability, high on dominance and high on sensitivity.

There are situations where some people become too wary of what the others will think if they were to voice a different opinion. This is particularly relevant when one is conversing with people who have more power and authority than the person in question. The situation gets further aggravated if the person seeks warmth, steadiness and consistency. And at times, the person is wary of her or his personal rapport with the other person in the discussion and doesn’t open up. In the process, one makes a huge dis-service to the group by holding back one’s contribution to the issue at hand. Who knows, that contribution is the best solution? So, one has to acquire the skills of presenting one’s views calmly, staying focused on the issue and the facts surrounding it.

Last but not the least, one must not express one’s opinions as facts. In such cases, others see that the speaker is being judgemental of the other opinions and biased towards one’s own. The participants in the dialogue get incited and the conversation breaks down. Rather one must demonstrate humbleness towards the others participating in the dialogue by listening to their points of view, enquiring further to understand the point of view, expressing agreement if any with the parts of the others’ view. This helps the environment for the discussion and quickens up the dialogue process.

The conversation can be a Game of Chess and not Boxing.

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