Saturday, August 17, 2013

What Do You REALLY Want?

What do you really want? This is the question I have been asking myself after reading the book Crucial Conversations.
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The main point of the book is this:
When stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions run strong, you have three choices: Avoid a crucial conversation and suffer the consequences; handle the conversation badly and suffer the consequences; or step up to life's most difficult and important conversations, say what's on your mind, and achieve the positive resolutions you want.

There are lots of tips in the book for handling crucial conversations, but my favorite is this one: Before you enter into a crucial conversation (like, for example with a family member who wants to rip your heard off or a co-worker you would like to banish to a deserted island) ask yourself: "What do you REALLY want?"

Most times, if you're like me, your answer will be:
And both of these answers mean you are about to enter an inflammatory conversation with lighter fluid. There is sure to be an explosion of hurt feelings, angry outbursts, and/or uncomfortable silence and nothing gained. Why? Because it's all about you. It's all about the short term gain. 
I want to teach you a lesson.
I want to be right.
I want to win and show you you're wrong.
I want to give you a piece of my mind.
I want to be heard.
I want
I want
Instead...this book has taught me to think bigger than that. Think more unselfishly. Think more long term.
What do I really want?
I want us to get along.
I want us to be able to talk to each other.
I want to preserve this relationship.
I want us to treat each other better.
I want us to be able to learn something from this and move on.
I want our team to motivated and feel appreciated.
I want our family to be closer.
I want there to be trust and respect between us.
I want to enjoy working with you.
I want to resolve this problem without hurting each other.

Notice the difference? There is "I" at the beginning of each sentence, but it isn't just about me--what I want includes YOU. And I want to do more than just win this current battle, I am thinking about the "war", or the bigger picture.
Here's the problem with this powerful little question - "What do I REALLY want?"
It is hard to ask.
It's especially hard to ask when you are pissed off because you've had your feelings hurt or your ego stomped on by a person that makes you wish you could retire.
Let me give you an example.
The other day I had a critical conversation with someone over the phone. This person was VERY upset and was basically unleashing multi-decades worth of vitriol all over me over something that in my mind was quite minor. The conversation did not go well. The next day, I had to call this person back. A friend of mine suggested that I call and tell this person to "go take a long walk off a short pier."  But I held the phone in my hand, pausing momentarily to ask myself: "What do I REALLY want?" And my answer was:
To kick her in the face.
Then I said, OK, now that I got that out, what do I REALLY, REALLY want?
I want to have a relationship with this person.
I want us to be able to communicate for the long term.
This changed my approach. It dialed me down a notch. My attitude changed. I picked up the phone and as the conversation started to heat up again, I did not allow it to rope me in and turn me into a ranting, raving angry fool. And it worked.It did not turn me into a door mat either. I stood up for myself several times, but I did so with a spirit of humility, not of, "Oh no you didn't!" I told this person that we both wanted the same thing, because it truth, we did. That helped. I also said that I was not interested in trying to BE right; I was interested in trying to DO what was right. This conversation ended much more amicably and productively. It didn't go perfectly, but it didn't turn into a scream-fest either. 
The book describes how most people will do one of two things during critical conversations. They will resort to silence or violence. Violence is when a conversation turns to outbursts, yelling, or even a physical altercation. Silence is where you shut down, shut off, refuse to talk to that person or turn passive-agressive. You might give them the cold shoulder, make snide comments under your breath, gossip behind their back or you may just stuff down your emotions and act friendly. Neither silence nor violence is healthy and that is why the authors provide a variety of tools for handling tough conversations assertively and effectively. There are lots of tools in the book, but even the authors admit that if you can grab just one tool out of the toolbox, grab the "What do you really want?" question.

I agree. I am finding the question helpful in a lot of situations.  I think of it as a "speed-bump" question. You know those things that slow you down before you race ahead and do something stupid? The question gives me pause. Forces me to think.  It gets me to examine my motives and come up with a goal that involves more than just "This is what I want RIGHT NOW!" It is not easy to do. But it's worth it if you want to preserve a healthy family, relationship or work environment. It feels good to be right, but not at the cost of an important relationship. What good is winning the conversation if you lose a friend? What good is making your point if you make an enemy of your family member at the same time? What do you gain by knocking a co-worker down a peg? What do you lose? 
Tough questions, but ones I try to ask myself before I pick up the phone, pop into an office or sit down on the couch with "that look on my face." You know, the one that says, "We're about to engage in a critical conversation and it's all I can do not to kick you in the face?"

-Hope A. Horner,
Follow on Twitter @HopeNote!
Email author at hopeh1122 on g-mail.

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