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Resolve Conflict With Effective Communication

With annual review season upon us, I see no better time to break down conflict and build up skills to increase understanding, be heard, and move us closer toward our values and what we want and need.


  • Learn how memories are formed and how our individual perceptions create multiple realities; highlighting how those realities may conflict with others.

  • Unpack how assumptions and blame keep us stuck and invite us to unpack our experience.

  • Compare conflict seekers vs conflict avoiders and review common bodily responses to conflict.

  • Expand awareness of our personal communication style, setting yourself up for getting your communication needs met and meeting the needs of others.

  • Increase your chance of successful communication by dissecting a step-by-step formula, complete with tools to start using today so you can be vigilant and brave in difficult conversations.

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A 2018 Economist Intelligence Unit Survey reported different communication styles as the number one reason for poor work communication with added stress being the most significant negative outcome. While only 7% of U.S. workers strong agree that communication is accurate, timely and open where they work. The cost of poor communication is baffling. SHRM (The Society for Human Resource Management) cited a study of 400 companies of 100,000 employees that lost an average of $62.4 million per year due to ineffective communication. They also noted an article stating that smaller companies of 100 employees lost on average $420,000 per year. This is clearly an expensive problem. A solvable problem but an expensive one, nonetheless.

The negative impact of poor communication is seen in delayed or incomplete projects, low morale, missed performance goals and even low sales. The thing is teams with effective communication have better engagement, increased morale, improved productivity, reduced turnover, more trust, and less conflict.

A 2019 Forbes article highlights a SHRM and Globoforce survey that reports 89% of HR leaders agree that ongoing peer feedback and check-ins are key for successful outcomes.


Before we dive into the components of effective communication and a 4-step process to succeeding in it, let’s first talk about how our brains store memory and process current information; as bias is frequently the basis of conflict. Memories are stored as words and language that create a larger story. Language that’s first spoken to us, then eventually with our own internal narration, but with those origins embedded into the subconscious. This part of the brain matures around 2 or 3 years old, which explains why little to no memory is easily accessible before that age.

For convenience and survival, our brains quickly search, scan, and categorize. Generating a label, an opinion, and a feeling before we’re even aware. If we operate from this subconscious state, which we all do at varying degrees, we move through current situations on past knowledge and beliefs. This can be amazingly helpful when drawing on expert knowledge and intuition to guide decision making. Emergency room doctors could not effectively take care of patients without this ability. But sometimes our knee-jerk reaction is someone else’s voice or old coding that’s in conflict with personal values or current research, creating inner turmoil and outer conflict.

To explore your personal values system:

During stress (otherwise known as sympathetic nervous system activation or more commonly “fight & flight”), the memory and language areas are suppressed, lessening their ability to form a full account and store clear memory. While simultaneously increasing activity within the amygdala, our emotion center.

Ever try to accurately recall an argument with a spouse or co-worker? Not all the details are clear, are they? This supports the explanation of why highly emotional or traumatic events are usually stored in fragments, emotions, or somatic (body/physical) sensations, instead of a detailed script of objective facts.

Hippocampal suppression prevents a fully formed memory, but a heightened amygdala allows for emotion, feeling and somatic memory to be stored in connective tissue, muscles, and the nervous system.

With or without the stress factor, we each process information differently. What we consume, interpret, and draw conclusions on is different. What we store as long-term memory is also unique per person and based on a host of environmental factors such as current nervous system state, the ways in which we were parented, our educational experience, overall health and current events throughout childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood.

Let’s use a Taylor Swift concert reference to illustrate the point and of course, give the girlies what they want.

One Swiftie grew up with the boys and experiences Taylor sings about, so this fan resonates deeply with the lyrics. She had an amazing time; loved the show, the set list, and company in the surrounding rows; except for her sulking significant other at her side. Her boyfriend, who grew up making fun of Taylor Swift, would rather be at home, elbow deep in a bucket of chicken wings from BDubs, playing Grand Theft Auto.

He certainly wouldn’t dare to listen to her music by choice and only agreed to attend the concert to get in his girl’s good graces. These two people are going to interpret that concert very differently. So, the lesson is: if you’re holding onto an Eras ticket for your begrudged boyfriend…sell it. To me.

Our perceptions and interpretations are based on explicit and implicit rules we’ve learned about ourselves, family, society, the world at large, and their relationship to one another. For Example: Your executive board may have move through their careers with pre- & post-sun on-the-clock hours, hellacious stop-and-go commutes, and disharmonious work/life balance and relationships. But since they also experienced achievement, they may believe those negative experiences are the costs to success. That being in the office full-time increases engagement and productivity; and therefore, without question, require it of their staff.

You, the more up-to-date individual, understand that the research actually supports flexible hours, more autonomy and fairness, like merit-based promotions, as factors that drive engagement and productivity. Without explicit discussions of experiences and the current research, and collaboration on new ideas that meet a more inclusive group of needs, we’ll continue to experience the detached status quo. You, for having to go into the office more, negatively impacting other areas of your life, your work and health. Your manager, for consistently dealing with burned-out, disengaged employees. And the stakeholders for having to take increasingly public ownership of their capitalistic greed and the unhealthy dynamic that it creates.

Another example may be if you frequently had family dinners growing up, then you may have an implicit belief that family dinners are how you connect and show love. Your partner may have grown up with minimal to no family dinners, or had a difficult time with them, and doesn’t share the same value or understand the extent of yours. Without knowing this, and having explicit discussions surrounding expectations and boundaries, you may take offense to what you perceive as rude, avoidant, inconsiderate, or a lack of intimacy. They, in turn, may perceive you as overbearing, high maintenance or needy.

As you may notice, all these examples lead to vulnerable discussions; and while I certainly fall on the conflict seeker end of the spectrum, it’s important to note that not every problem requires a conversation. There are some relationships, jobs and experiences that may only deserve you throwin’ up a peace sign and skedaddlin’.

But if you choose the conversational route, I’ll review the important details to consider before opening your pie hole. Us conflict seekers have an endearing way of sticking our foot in our mouths, don’t we?

One of the biggest issues we have in conflict is our inability to see our own contributions to the problem. A common contribution to conflict is the avoidance of addressing it…until now. We’ve stuffed it down so many times that the situation begins to grow inside us; sometimes spilling out onto an unassuming 3rd party, instead of the other persons involved. 3rd parties are certainly valuable resources for coaching and preparation but using them only for emotional dumping is just avoidance.

Other contributions to conflict that are frequently overlooked are being unapproachable, uninterested, short-tempered, judgmental, argumentative, and unfriendly. These attitudes do not create psychological safety and therefore effective communication is inaccessible. Towards the end of the episode, when we review communication styles, we’ll revisit similar characteristics so you can not only point them out in yourself, but recognize them in others, which allows you to alter your communication strategy.

Infatuation or admiration can also lead to ignoring poor communication or waiting (hoping) for the other person to change. We probably all have the friend, family member, or colleague who we love and respect, so we may sweep poor behavior and negative impact under the rug. People don’t change, at least not without awareness and dialogue, so our expectations need to be made explicit if they have any chance of being met. We also must be willing to compromise our preferences where able.

Lastly, the assumed roles we have within a group (an organization, family, a relationship) directly affects our approach to conflict. The group functions as a singular unit and works to keep everyone in their places because it's predictable, comfortable, and yes, even beneficial. Or so it seems. This is seen within family units where the parent/child dynamic prevents the child from growing up, assuming responsibility and building healthy relationships. But it also occurs within the workplace with micromanagers, perfectionist colleagues and aggressive, unapproachable leaders. Changing this system results in unmet expectations, disappointment, frustration, and requires additional effort that eventually leads to growth. To ground yourself prior to a conflicted conversation, first analyze your role, emotions, and identity. We’ll talk more about this when we move to the 4-step process. Before we do that, let’s touch on assumptions and blame.


Assumptions directly affect how the conversation will go, especially if we’re slingin’ assumptions as actualities. Usually, we make assumptions about how the other person feels or their intent, and it’s usually influenced by the impact the experience had on us. For example: if we feel frustrated, powerless, or fear manipulation, we’re more likely to make negative assumptions about their intentions and feel compelled to place blame.

Blame provokes us to ask who is the bad person? Who made the mistake? Who should apologize? Who gets to be righteously indignant? Blame is asking who did something bad and should be punished? Because no one wants to be the subject of those questions, blame can only produce disagreement, defense, and denial. When there is a fear of punishment, psychological safety cannot exist. Little learning can happen within blame. A good place to start is by examining our relationship to blame.

Are we on the end of the spectrum where we tend to absorb responsibility for everything (and everyone) and exaggerate our contributions to the problem? Or do we tend to shift away from and deny criticism, painting ourselves as faultless?

Our goal is to focus less on casting judgment, dolling out or overly accepting blame and more on considering the individual contributions to the problem. Think back to the common contributions I mentioned earlier about waiting too long to discuss and being unapproachable.

Blame is proven insignificant when we remove one part of the contribution system (like in a breakup or firing someone). It only removes their contributions. Even if the fired or dumped party has a list of valid contributions to the problem, there are still more contributions outside of that person, that will continue long after this situation is over. When we feel the impulse to blame, it’s usually our desire for accountability around the impact the situation had on us. Ask yourself “what important aspects of that impact have I not shared yet?”. If you’ve shared your feelings, you can ask yourself “Has the other person acknowledged them?” or “Do I need to learn more about the other person’s experience and have I acknowledged the impact?” This emotional intelligence requires a deeper level of listening that I’ll review shortly.

These inquisitive moments help move us out of blame and into curiosity. Once you can identify what you’re doing to perpetuate the situation, you learn where you have leverage to affect the system. Blame makes their work our responsibility and it just isn’t. You can create change, by focusing on yourself. Asking yourself “what about this situation is making it hard for me to look at myself?” helps redirect out of blame and into the contribution system. We can also explicitly ask this of others if they are finding difficult to see their contributions: “Is there anything I’m doing that’s making it hard for you to look at your contributions to our problem?” in short: blame is an invitation to explore feelings.

I admit, this process does require a bit of conflict seeking mojo. Some of us are born disagreeable while others find it more comfortable avoiding conflict.


Me being a conflict seeker should be unsurprising given my tone and tenor. My comfortability in conflict is partly due to finally understanding how to handle it correctly, so I seek out opportunities for debate. But also, I just love making people who think they’re better than or more powerful than me uncomfortable. I have a fun little relationship with authority.

Funny story… during my first quarter at Northwestern, I stayed at a local hotel that was hoppin’ for a random weekend in April. While descending the elevator to begin a day’s worth of class, a salt-and-pepper gentleman hopped on and struck up conversation; as white, boomer, MBAs tends to do, in unfilled elevators with 30-something brunettes. He asked me what I was in town for, and I told him for a grad school intensive weekend and returned the question, to which he replied that it was a Kellogg Alumni Weekend.

Kellogg is the 3rd ranked business school in the nation and I, a stay-at-home-mom who stumbled halfway across the country into a prestigious institution, did not know this. My master’s program, although cheekily dubbed a “people-focused MBA” resides within the School of Education and Social Policy, not the Kellogg School of Business. I feel like this fact at least gives me a pass on not knowing this apparently pivotal information, which to him I replied “Oh, what’s that?”. Let me tell you though, my embarrassment was quickly washed away by the offended look on his face. It was giving very “It’s a Ferrari”.

“Oh…right! Have fun, byeeeeee!”

Whether you’re like me and find conflict fun and useful, there are plenty that feel the opposite. Some feel like conflict is unnecessary or harmful and avoid it at all costs. Some run towards; others run from. Usually, this preference is based on the physical symptoms and emotions that arise with conflict, which is usually related to how we experienced conflict in childhood. It’s here I see a crossover between comfortability with conflict and Bowlby and Ainsworth’s attachment theory in psychology.

In short attachment theory explains that how we were parented directly affects our ability to build relationships in adulthood. About 50% of the population has a secure attachment style meaning they are comfortable with intimacy and can reasonably manage conflict. A little less than a quarter are anxiously attached. They crave intimacy and tend to be pre-occupied with relationships and conflict. And avoidantly attached make up about 25% of the population; they are fearful of and avoid intimacy and conflict. Avoidants may dodge disagreement because it’s inherently intimate. The anxious fall into conflict not only because it provides the intimacy they crave, but also by using it as an attention seeking, protest behavior when their attachment system is activated. Are my zingers and zaniness attention seeking? – oh but of course. It’s a podcast not a diary. This is a performance people. They told me that coaching is not a performance, so I had to find another route.

We’re focused on communication for this episode, but if attachment theory intrigues you, I’ve put book recommendations in the description. Anyway, all this to say is that conflict management is a taught skill. So, if you didn’t witness and explicitly worked through effective forms, chances are you have work to do. I don’t mean this offensively, I am the first person to admit that conflict management is an ongoing area of development for me. It is what it is, ya know? But thinking you’ve got it all figured out ain’t it.

Conflict is essential for problem identification, solution generation and change; and it arises when core beliefs or understandings are challenged. This is why our bodies respond so aggressively. If we’re not aware of our programming, bodily responses and personal value systems, our triggered nervous system and the related emotional responses are in more control than our logic and reasoning. For everyone, not just women.

Becoming aware of your bodily sensations and emotions during conflict is the first step. Awareness is the first step in most things. Which is why prioritizing reflection is essential to growth. Some common responses to conflict are sweaty palms, flushed face, racing thoughts or frozen thought, feeling your heart beating inside your chest, and a narrowed focus, amongst many others. Noticing these reactions will allow you to become aware of them in the moment, presenting you choice over what to do next. Stress management in real time is an important communication skill but it begins with consistent, lifetime, routine-based self-care, and reflection.

Activities like meditation, breath work, journaling, body movement, social gatherings and crying have all shown to provide relief and improve the overall ability to manage stress. If you’re curious for more, I reviewed these and other stress management techniques in the last episode: Burnout in Helping Professions. One of my longtime clients recently decide to pinch the pressure point between her thumb and forefinger when she feels her body respond to conflict. This helps bring her back into her body. Allowing her to regulate her nervous system and access planning and logic skills to move forward effectively.

Implementing go-to techniques during conflict can help your nervous system from going haywire, keeping you engaged rationally and logically; ultimately increasing your chance of success, understanding & comprehension, being heard, effectively solving the problem, and building trusting relationships.

Now that we’ve reviewed our bodily responses to conflict, let’s expand our awareness on what’s projected outward.

Humans are more convicted in their knowledge and opinions than being comfortable with not knowing. We’re all just dads refusing to ask for directions. Our egos are determined to keep all threatening info out. Anything that doesn’t confirm what we already believe is flagged as suspicious. During stressful conflict when our nervous system is activated, our emotions are at the wheel and our ego is riding shotgun. And it’s here where we say and hear:

“That will never work.”,

“That’s not my experience.”,

“That too complicated.” and


We use confirmation bias to look for supporting evidence instead of analyzing objectively. A trap that’s set every time I write, as I scoured the internet for data that proves my very specific point. Or desirability bias that looks for supporting evidence to make something you want to be true, true. Think Trump 2020 Election Results. A group of people wanted his win to be true so badly that they began finding “evidence” to support their claim. Then surrounded themselves with people who thought like them; this is called Group Polarization.

These tools polarize us to the point where our environment is curated with likeminded people. We are constantly being validated because we don’t see, hear, or entertain ideas that don’t fit our mold. This supports the importance of inclusive leadership teams, to consistently be exposed to what is beyond our awareness.

One concept I like to use to understand go-to behaviors comes from Adam Grant in his 2021 book Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know. When we lack self-management in conflict, we generally fall into 1 of 3 three modes of attack: Preacher, Prosecutor, and Politician. We may incorporate all three in one conversation, but usually one is our comfy default.

  • PREACHER: delivering a sermon to protect our beliefs that are at stake. This is a high horse, soapbox, morality conversation.

  • PROSECUTOR: pointing out flaws in another’s argument to win our case. I am smarter and have more data than you; I will litigate this all night.

  • POLITICIAN: campaigning for approval. Charming, over the top, "schmoozy", glad-handing, manipulative.

Within these roles we’re not listening to understand, we’re listening to respond. In fact, we may not be listening at all. Let’s take the next few minutes to review what active listening truly is. Co-Active Coaching describes three levels of listening, which like many concepts in coaching, originates from psychotherapy.

  • Level I or Internal Listening: is a focused awareness on ourselves. We hear the words spoken to us and think “What does this mean to me?”. It’s here that we want answers, details, and data. Which is fine when we’re considering what to order for lunch at a restaurant, or how to maneuver around rush hour traffic. But to hear of a friend’s bad fortune and reply with a similar experience that you had, isn’t the golden ticket to building trusting relationships or effective problem solving. This is also the place where our minds wander when we’re supposed to be engaged with others. So many of us find ourselves in Level I listening during long work meetings, a colleague’s dull storytelling, or your 5 year-old’s beautifully cute attempt at telling you about their day. I wonder what I’m going to make for dinner. Shoot, I forgot to call Zoe back. The carpet in this conference room is disgusting.

  • Level II or Focused Listening: is a narrowed focus on the other person. At this level we are paying attention not only to their words but their body language, expressions, and emotions. You listen to what they value and what they envision. Picking up on their fears, hang-ups, and bang-ups like you are Dr. Seuss in Oh, The Places You’ll Go!. You’re sensing their energy, tone, and pace. Instead of mining for surface level material, Level II listeners empathize, clarify, and collaborate. Curious questioning over declarative statements. Using the same analogies and comparisons, reflecting them back through paraphrasing.

  • Level III or Global Listening: takes it a step further where you’re immersed in the dynamic; like there’s a force field around you. You’re accessing your intuition and using all your senses to pick up information. It’s here that we’re sensitive to subtle stimuli, noticing a change in temperature and energy level.


One of the most impactful things I learned in my graduate coaching program was communication styles. The following information is based on the work and research of the Carlson/Nathanson Group and their Perceptive Communications Assessment. They theorize communication styles are based on two factors:

  • Dominance: is someone assertive or receptive

  • Openness: are they responsive or reserved

To view styles objectively, we refrain from evaluating as good or bad. Each style has their strengths and weaknesses so there’s no superiority or ranking within them.

To do this, let’s review some terms that define these behaviors. Listen carefully for a couple of things: 1) which traits do you exhibit and 2) which do you find challenging to deal with.

On the Dominance scale we have:

  • Assertive on one end. This behavior is direct, decisive, competitive, talkative, and urgent

  • Receptive on the other end. This behavior is agreeable, quiet, patient, unassuming and other-centered

On the Openness scale we have:

  • Responsive on one end. This behavior is emotional, spontaneous, expressive, subjective, and risk-taking

  • Reserved on the other end. This behavior is objective, observant, methodical, task-oriented, and self-controlled

Below is a visual of the quadrant with the dominance scale running horizontally with receptive to the left and assertive to the right. The openness spectrum runs vertically with reserved at the bottom and responsive at the top.

Based on these two factors, most of us would fall into one of four styles. Starting with the top left and working our way around clockwise.

  • Facilitating: high openness and low dominance

    • This style is cooperative, loyal, and good listeners. They’re also time-wasters, soft and illogical

    • Moving to the right and up the dominance scale is

  • Advocating: with the same high openness but now with higher dominance.

    • This style is idea-oriented, enthusiastic, and personable. They’re also inattentive, impractical, and lack follow-through

    • Both facilitators and advocators are open and emotional but differ in power and assertiveness.

Moving to the bottom right, remaining in high dominance but moving down the openness scale to

  • Controlling: where dominance is high, and openness is low.

    • This style is goal-oriented, organized, and competitive. They’re also over-bearing, critical, self-centered.

    • And finally, remaining in low openness but moving down the dominance scale is

  • Analyzing: with low dominance and low openness.

    • This style is precise, rational, and inquisitive. They’re also picky, perfectionistic, and uncommunicative

The goal is not to be one of these styles, as there’s not one inherently better than another. The goal is to recognize where you’re comfortable, what styles you find challenging and building actionable ways to move up and down the dominance and openness scales to meet someone else’s communication needs. When you do that, they’re more likely to meet yours and ultimately have a more productive conversation.

For example: I am an advocating style meaning I have high dominance and high openness in conversation. I tend to be creative, energetic, personable, and intuitive. I can also be idealistic, impractical, and lack follow through. I struggle the most with those in the analyzing style as they are my exact opposite. They’re low dominance and low openness. They tend to be uncommunicative, picky, over-cautious and stubborn. And I’m over there like, can we get the show on the freakin’ road people. Enough with the details, the questions, reviewing all the options. Land your plane already. Gimme a bulleted list of highlighted themes, mmkay? But gratefully, analyzers also balance me out with their process-orientation, precision, and objectivity. Knowing this allows us to highlight our individual strengths and note where we get tripped up and frustrated with one another.

I highly recommend taking the Human Synergistics Perceptive Communications®️ Assessment if you’re interested in how others perceive your communication, are working on becoming a better communicator, or experience miscommunication as a frequent driver to conflict.

Red flags for unproductive conversations include receiving consistently late, inaccurate, or incomplete information, being kept out of the loop or at an arm's length or feeling there's a lack of trust. Taking this assessment as a team and completing the coaching workbook that comes with the report, can help you uncover where you and your teammates are likely to get stuck and build multiple paths forward when you do. The assessment provides feedback on not only your style but:

  • Negotiability: the degree to which you appear willing to change

  • Adaptability: your actual ability to temporarily change communication behavior to meet the communication needs of others

  • Accessibility: your physical, intellectual, and emotional availability and the

  • Sending and Receiving: your effectiveness at delivering a clear message, as well as active listening and understanding what has been communicated to you.

If you’re a visual learner or would like to learn more about actionable ways to adapt to varying styles, I’ve linked my free 15-min communication awareness training, that reviews this in more detail, in the show notes. For a chance to get a Perceptive Communications Assessment and a report review coaching session on me for FREE, a $375 value, watch the free training and email me at your biggest takeaway and what you hope to get out of the assessment. I’ll enter names into a drawing and choose one person to get their assessment 100% on me!

To help you start having more productive conversations today, we’ll end with a 4-step process to effective communication


First, we want to determine our purpose or intention for the conversation. We are not preachers, prosecutors, or politicians. Even if we are, and some of you actually are, we’re not clocked in. We know we’re setting ourselves up for failure when we enter a conversation with the purpose to convince the other person that we are right. Instead, choose curiosity. A purpose could be to learn their perspective, to express our views and feelings, or to collaborate on problem solving. Once we’ve established our intention, we break down what we know to be true. Not what we hope to be true, or what storyline we’ve created in our heads. This means differentiating an actuality from an assumption. So, what kinds of things do we know to be true? We know, or will know with conscious reflection, our experience, our feelings about that experience, the impact the experience had on us, and our intentions within that situation and in having this conversation. What we do not know, and what should be a learning goal within the conversation, is their experience, their intentions, and our impact on them.

Staying objectively curious is how you move the conversation forward. The truth isn’t the facts – we can debate facts and opinions all day. But to be honest, we rarely care about the facts. It’s our experience and the emotions underneath that we need acknowledged. Sitting passenger while they drive down the road that took them there, can help it make sense. Stay curious by asking questions, asking them to elaborate, and reflecting the same expressions and diction through paraphrasing. Empathy is not experiencing the exact situation as another person. It’s sharing in the emotion of that experience.

Constructing your story with this information is the first step of the formula. You leave a conversation think “what just happened?” This is where you start. What did happen? And I don’t mean who forgot what or who made the wrong choice. No. I mean what happened inside of you? What did you experience? Did their actions cause inconvenience, a break in trust, or make you feel under considered? What assumptions are you making about their intentions? Is it possible they had good or no intentions that still hurt you anyway? Separate impact vs intent.

Next, what did you contribute to the conflict? Did you lose your temper or shut down and becoming unapproachable? Did you withhold your expectations, causing them to guess at what you wanted?

Now, how does all that make you feel? You can explore your emotional blueprint by using a few tools: The Mood Meter and an Emotion Wheel can be incredibly helpful. They’re both linked in the notes.

Next, ground your identity. What’s at stake for you here? Is it a version of yourself that you’ve been trying to protect and hope others see you as, but that’s not actually real or at least not to the extent of perfection you’re striving for? What would it mean if the truth was revealed? What do you need to accept about yourself and the other person to move forward? Is it that you struggle with time management, so you need to communicate what you need from them when it comes to meeting and collaborative projects? Is it that you interrupt others during meetings, which may embarrass or make others feel incompetent.

Review your intention again, then decide to have the conversation or let it go. A good conversation starter to help communicate that you understand there are multiple perspectives is “the story I’m telling myself is…” or “I need help putting things into perspective”. These open ended, non-accusatory approaches create the psychological safety for vulnerability, accountability and problem solving.

There is always another story. So, the 2nd step is listening to it. Remember, we don’t know what we don’t know. We invite them to share then use the active listening knowledge that we went over earlier. Employees who feel heard are 4.6 times more likely to do their best work. Whether you’re that employee or that employee’s manager, here is where you’ll put your coaching hat on. The best kind of revelations, the ones that stick, are the ones we come to ourselves. This is called motivational interviewing. This is where we ask those open-ended, non-leading questions and paraphrase back what we’ve heard. “Do I understand you correctly when I say that what I’m hearing is….” Remember we don’t have to agree with it. That’s not the point. We not trying to convince so it doesn’t matter if we agree or not. This isn’t about facts. We are curious about their perspective. We sit in what is true for them, just as we ask them to do for us in step one. We avoid insecure sarcasm, statements posed as questions, offhand comments, and offensive body language. If we are being served those things, we try to see beyond the behavior. Stay curious. Ask questions. It’s perfectly reasonable to ask someone to explain their body language and tone. “I’m sensing some offensive/aggressive/uncomfortable body language. Do you think it’s possible to describe your feelings so I can better understand where you’re coming from?”

It’s human instinct to want to respond to allegations first. And it is important. But it’s less significant than empathizing with their feelings. Even if you needed to sleuth around for them and paraphrase what they’ve said. Say a colleague spouts off “Ugh I hate that you’re always late. It’s so rude.” Instead of jumping directly into defending how it’s not “always”. Sit with it. They just told you something about you devaluing their time. Think back to a time when you felt your time was devalued. How do you feel about time in general? Do you like having autonomy and some control over it? Probably. An empathetic response looks like this: “I’m very sorry I wasn’t on time. I can see that my lateness upsets you. Does it make you feel like I don’t value your time? If so, that was not my intention and I do respect your time. I’m sorry I didn’t make it a priority today. How can I make it right?” Your reasons for being late can come after that. This is where self and stress management are key. When you notice that you’ve triggered someone or that you’re triggered yourself, the first thing to do is breathe. Control your breathing. Ground yourself, with your feet planted on the ground and breathe. Slow it down. In through your nose, full breaths and keep your active listening ears on. It will help keep the stress response from turning on or help shut it off. Remember, there are different stories amongst a shared truth. That shared truth is step 3.

Our Story: “When two become onnneeee”. Here we are finding the differences between the experiences and agreeing on what we can. We are not judging who is right and wrong, we’re spending time in each other’s perspectives. Okay let’s stop here. Spending time in each other’s perspectives. This requires us to sit in discomfort and disharmony. This is hard. And it’s really hard for those avoidant attachment styles. To do this we must grant ourselves forgiveness for making mistakes. This allows us to take ownership over our contributions and the negative impact we’ve had on others. That’s what it comes down to isn’t it? Our guilt? Shame? Perfectionism? So, hold space for your conversational partner and yourself.

We can avoid binary bias, the impulse to choose between two things, this, or that, by adopting an “And Stance” mentality. Where two things can be true at the same time. I can feel compassion for how tough things have been for you lately and still feel frustrated and unsupported by your behavior. The “and stance” and common agreements are where we want to focus in this step. These conversations are not just a checklist of activities, although I have linked my effective communication checklist in the notes that itemizes all this info. But my point is, success depends how you show up to the ongoing conversation and how you manage your stress throughout. Taking breaks when you feel triggered and need to regulate is completely fine. Committing to a time to return to the conversation is how we avoid the cat and mouse chase and keep trust in the relationship. “I feel like I’m hitting a wall so I’m going to take 30 minutes and I’ll meet you back here or can we schedule another time?” Granting time and space for emotional regulation increases the chance that the conversation will go well. After your break, when you re-enter the conversation, it’s advised to pick up where you left off instead of getting derailed about what triggered the need for a break.

These conversations don’t go as smoothly as I’m making it seem. This is not shocking. If you’re struggling to get them to open up effectively, a question like “What would you say I’m contributing to the problem?” is a great icebreaker invitation for them to share their story. Most of us would jump to answer the question “What am I doing wrong?”

“Oh let me count the ways….”

“Tell me more.” “Help me understand better.” “How would that work?” are all drivers of effective communication.

Listen for the change talk. Change talk leans in the direction of change. A good acronym to remember for when change talk is occurring is: DARN-CAT.

  • Desire: “I want to…”, “I wish…” (preference)

  • Ability: “I can…”, “I can’t…”, “I might be able to…” (capability)

  • Reason: “I need to ___ so I can ___”, (I need to set a recurring reminder to write the agenda for our 1:1) “I would probably feel better if…” (arguments for)

  • Need: “I have to…” (obligation)

  • Commitment: “I’m going to…”, “I promise…” (willingness)

  • Actualizing: “I’m ready to…”, “I will start on ____ date” (willingness)

  • Taking Steps: description of actionable steps.

Change talk guides the conversation towards more discovery or the fourth step: Problem Solving. Here, we’re inventing options to meet both parties most pressing concerns. This is a time to reflect on new information and reevaluate our opinions.

We can point to standards and precedents, but really, you’re updating them to work for the here and now. We don’t subscribe to the notion that “we’ve always done it this way”. Our values don’t change, but when needed, our opinions and approaches should. Think – Pair – Share. Very middle school group project vibes.

If you experience consistent interruption and escalation stop and share your assessment of that dynamic. If there’s a concern about losing your footing and being manipulated, remember you are the authority on you. Solidify your belief that you are a competent, good person, that’s worthy of what you’re asking for. When we fear we’ll lose our footing, the answer is somewhere within an identity conversation. Have we been manipulated in the past? Have we had to swallow our needs, desires, and boundaries to make others comfortable? Have we been judged?

What do I need to accept or let go of to build up confidence? What would persuade me to rethink? What would persuade them? Ask them that. Ask their advice. “What would you do, if you were me?”

As we embark on annual review season, I hope this episode prepared and empowered you for these sessions, setting yourself up for long-term success.

"It's a sign of wisdom to avoid believing every thought that enters your mind. It's a mark of emotional intelligence to avoid internalizing every feeling that enters your heart." - Adam Grant, Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know


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