Leading a conversation, even when it’s tough

Take the lead in your next challenging conversation: make it more effective, avoid miscommunication and create more openness and cooperation.

How? By deep level interventions.

You may recognize the unproductive quarrels we as human beings can end up in: during challenging conversations with colleagues or even at home with our family discussing seemingly unimportant household chores.

We provide our own rational arguments and are focussed purely at our own interest. During the conversation we exchange sentences starting with: “yes, but….”. We think we listen, but actually do not and sometimes end up in disagreement or even emotional conflict.

We often try to ‘win the discussion’ on a content level, while the deeper and more important meaning stays unspoken.

This counterproductive behaviour is one of many strategies that humans apply to protect themselves of being vulnerable or avoid losing control. We want to be right, feel certain and outsmart the other. Unfortunately resulting in feeling distanced to each other.

Change these ineffective patterns and increase your impact dramatically, connect to others and guide any discussion. How? For example by being open about your own emotions and pointing out the other’s feelings. In this way, you consciously address the deeper levels of interaction you are in.

You are in the toilet and notice that you are out of paper.
Annoyed you say to your partner: “Darling, again there is no toilet paper!!”
His/her response: “Well, did you finish it?!”
You react: “No, I did not. You were the last one in the toilet!” 
and so on…

What if he/she responded:
“I know, it’s annoying to discover there is no paper when you need it. I’ll hand you a new role, dear.“

This example is an intervention on the fourth level: emotion.

The iceberg below shows four intervention levels in communication.
Focus on non-verbal signals of the other to detect the deeper meaning of a conversation; then bring the deeper levels ‘to the surface’ by giving words to what you’ve heard and seen. Because like with an iceberg, the most important parts is below the surface.

levels in communication

1) Intervene on the Content level (actual words) by:

  • Asking questions. “ What do you mean by that?”
  • Summarising. “If I understand you correctly, you are saying that…?”

2) Intervene on the Procedural level (structure) by:

  • Checking meeting objective. “In this meeting, we decide on the budget, correct?”
  • Setting a timeframe. “We have two hours to reach an agreement.”
  • Proposing a structure. ”Shall we first discuss about A, then B and then C?”
  • Proposing a brainstorm. “For the next topic I want to hear all your ideas, without judging them.”

3) Intervene on the Process level (interaction/roles) by:

  • Describing a way someone speaks. “I do not follow, you are speaking to fast”
  • Revealing (hidden) power or roles. “Besides your official viewpoint on this, what is your personal opinion?”

4) Intervene on the Emotional level (feelings/needs) by:

  • Stating own feelings. “I feel as if you do not trust what I’m saying.”
  • Checking emotional states of the other. “I can sense that you are happy about that, am I right?”
  • Showing empathy. “You seem to feel unheard? “You feel mislead?”

So next time you feel stuck in any discussion: try intervening on deeper levels!
Like Franklin Covey said: “First try to understand, than to be understood”.