Last night, like so many others in Auckland, I attended ‘An Evening with Oprah’. The energy at the venue was palpable and Oprah masterfully guided the crowd into an extraordinarily evangelical frenzy at the end, screaming out ‘TAKE YOUR GLORY AND ROAR!!!’
To experience it was an absolute privilege and her generosity was outstanding; for two hours she shared vulnerably, powerfully and bringing all of herself to each moment.I also was part of the most natural standing ovation I have ever seen. She stopped, and everyone just stood up, no delay, no awkwardness.
I could share so much of the gold today, but one particular insight of hers truly resonated with me. She said that after every interview she ever had, the same question was always asked, whether it was Barack, Beyonce or someone who had just shared their most tragic personal story….
"Was that ok?"
She had rather a breakthrough based on that insight. Everyone is looking to be validated, and what they really want to say is ‘Did you hear me? Does what I say matter to you?’
And she then went on to share that this was particularly the case for arguments, and told a hilarious story about her preparing a goose for her husband Stedman who came late home from golf one day.
The challenge with argument and conflict, is we make it all mean so much. We get caught up in entitlement, drama and significance and if we aren’t mindful about how we are communicating, the conflict can build and build to explosion point.
It got me to thinking how so many arguments could be resolved, if each party simply felt that they had been heard and that what they thought mattered. My husband is very complimentary about my ability to turn any conflict in my life around to a positive. Sometimes with clients or prospects the way we handle their displeasure with something can actually cement the relationship to a deeper level, and I like to think I always commit to ensuring they feel heard, and thankfully have burnt very few bridges to date.
But I learned a very clever process from a very wise woman around twelve years ago that has supported me to do that in an effective way, so I thought it was worthwhile sharing that today, in light of Oprah’s insight.
When someone close to you is angry and vents, view them simply as a skin bag of hot air
If we can detach ourselves from the emotion, but still listen to what they are saying, it creates a possibility for resolution.
I have outlined my process step by step below, which makes this newsletter a little lengthier than usual. Feel free to read it, or not.
Have a wonderful Christmas and new year break with your family. I am offline now for three weeks, and will also take a break from my weekly blogs (this is number 50 for the year!). Here’s to 2016 being your most illuminating yet!
Here is what I do step by step.
(1) Frame the conversation. State that you want to discuss and hopefully resolve the conflict and it is important to you that they feel heard. Invite them to share why they are so angry with them, and give them your word that you will not interrupt until they are finished. You might even wish to advise them you would like to take a couple of notes (seriously, this isgood idea :-)) Request that they get everything out into the open (I always find people are open to this, which isn’t surprising, because you are giving them an opportunity to be heard).
(2) Listen to what they say! But instead of ‘going anywhere’ with their accusations, their stories and the potentially hurtful stuff that they are saying, just visualize them as a skin bag of hot air, slowing deflating with every word. If there is a lot for them to share, or you think you won’t remember, then jot down the key points – what they are saying, not your interpretation. I know it sounds tricky, but if you can just focus on the words, and not make meaning out of it, then it’s surprisingly easy. Sometimes, if I am struggling with that, I just think of the words coming out as ‘’bla bla bla’ – not out of disrespect, but to disassociate myself from the drama (and you will be able to review the actual content/meaning later on)
(3) When it seems that they have finished, gently say ‘got it, thanks so much. Was there anything else?’ You know how when you are deflating an airbed, and you sometimes have to stomp out some of that last remaining air? Think of the skinbag in front of you like that. There is often other underlying stuff that they won’t automatically share, but if you keep asking, then those last words of hot air will escape. I find this exercise quite transformational, in that I feel that I can literally see them deflating in front of me! The charge just disappears. Why? Because they feel like they are being heard.
(4) When you are sure that they have got all of it out, then thank them again, and tell them you really appreciate them sharing so openly. Then ask if you can confirm with them exactly how they feel, so that you can be sure you haven’t misinterpreted something. This is why the notes can be so helpful, especially if the comments are quite heated. Again, I do think framing helps, so say something like ‘so you feel that I am disrespecting you because I (a), (b) and (c) and that I never (d), am completely (e) and (f) and it was unbelievable when I (g)ed. You get the picture! Look for acknowledgement from them that you have captured and relayed it fully. There is of course the chance that your tone or choice of words (if you don’t read it back verbatim) will get you into trouble; if that happens, then apologise, and reframe without the emotion.
So what happens next? You know, I don’t think it actually matters! The fact is that you have given them the chance to feel heard, and the conflict will hopefully have cooled off a bit. You do have right of reply, but sometimes I think that is a good idea to schedule for a later time. Do have a look at what they have said, remember it is their truth, not the truth, but there might be some learnings for you. When you do want to communicate with them, ask them to afford the same courtesy you gave them, ie not interrupting, and be careful not to slip into a defensive or justifying style.
This has saved me loads of potential grief a number of times in the last decade. Take a risk, give it a go, and I trust you will find the same.