Leadership

How to stay open when you are ready to shut the conversation down

My throat tightens and my neck and shoulders pull in toward my back.
She says to me again, “I am wondering if we can talk more about what just happened?”

Everything quickens, my mind jumps, and I think, “What did I do? What is wrong?”

I begin to feel nervous and a bit ashamed.
I do not like feeling ashamed.
And I know for me nervous often leads to anxious.
I do not like anxious… I want this feeling to end quickly, now.
 
I blurt out “oh I know, I know… I didn’t mean to” before she has even finished her second sentence.
Whew that took care of that – now we can move on!
 
Or another time… my heartbeat quickens, my face flushes hot.
This person is telling me their opinion and whoa are they so wrong!
“Oh no you don’t,” I think… “you have no idea… you do not understand the reality of the situation in the least.”
 
I jump in and interject my opinion, explaining the correct way, of course!
 
And they fly back with an even hotter remark about the way we see it. Game on!
Or they clench their jaw and stop talking. And I have won.
 
These could be hypothetical examples of moments when we lose our cool, are about to receive tough feedback, or hear a viewpoint that is completely different than ours.
 
However, they are not hypothetical for me – both instances happened in the last four weeks.

You may relate.
 
My quick response to protect myself from feeling anything does not help anything change nor does it lead to better relationships.
I am working at not going into these states of behavior immediately.
I try to slow down and stay open.
 
When I can stay open, non-defensive and listen, I can: 

  • deepen my connection with colleagues,
  • develop the muscles to stay in moments that are uncomfortable,
  • learn that I can become a more aware & empathetic version of myself.

Here are the steps I take in the middle of a challenging conversation to stay open.

(Oh, did you miss part 1? Check out this video about why we shut conversations down.

I made a downloadable guide just for you (and me) – with the steps I use to stay non-defensive when the conversation gets sticky.
 
A few of my favorite resources are in the guide too!

May we all deepen our ability to engage in rich, fruitful, world changing conversations with each other.

Rheanna SmithHow to stay open when you are ready to shut the conversation down
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Why we shut down when the conversation gets difficult & what to do about it

There is one skill I am using more than any other in this time of Covid, US elections, & racial justice movement building, and no it is not bread baking (although Elino and I are making a scrumptious focaccia these days). 

The skill I continue to need is “how to stay open & non-defensive during a difficult conversation.” I need this skill to maintain relationships with those I love, and to work toward change through long Zoom calls.

Staying open and non-defensive is not always easy for me. 

I continue to learn, practice, fail, & try again. 

I keep trying to change how I show up because I believe if I can be open and non-defensive, I will hear more, learn more, and be a part of bridging the divides in understanding that exist in our world & nation (instead of creating more of them).

I believe this is one of the most important skills for being in loving relationships, building a high-functioning, honest team, and moving toward racial, climate, & economic justice.

I am excited to share what I do and the resources I use to deepen this skill!

Start here with a video about why we usually shut down when the conversation starts to feel hard. And what you can do before you are in a tricky conversation so you have the ability to stay open when it gets heated.

Next week be on the lookout for part 2 with tips for how to stay non-defensive while you are in the middle of an important conversation, plus amazing resources I love, and a cheat sheet!

Rheanna SmithWhy we shut down when the conversation gets difficult & what to do about it
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