Creating a Dialogue Through Constructive Conversations

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It is not the words spoken that affect relationships, but the impact of those words on our feelings. Every word spoken and every body movement influences our relationship. The words can be inspiring, motivating, or loving. Body movements can be a head nod of agreement or a hug. Words can also be biting, humiliating, or disparaging accompanied by such body movements as hands on the hips or crossed arms. Each one of these actions evokes an emotion. So what determines the type of reaction to words and body movements? It is the relationship between the sender and receiver of a message and the value of the relationship between the two. The value of a relationship is directly related to what can be gained or lost in the relationship. It could be love, money, power, information or the relationship itself.

A friend makes a sarcastic remark that is really bothersome. If addressed, it will lead to a heated discussion like the last time where hurtful words were exchanged. So as not to risk the loss or change in the relationship, nothing is said. Your boss tells you that your work on the project was less than expected. You say nothing because your merit raise is due and saying the wrong thing may jeopardize that raise which is desperately needed. A co-worker tells the project manager you were the reason the project was not completed on time. You choose not to address the co-worker because they have kept you in the information loop at work and you choose not to be out of that loop......

Each of these examples demonstrates some sort of value in keeping the present relationship intact. There is a fear that the relationship will change or be lost and the consequences of that change or loss is too great for whatever reason. Now, if we do not value a relationship (nothing to lose), we easily and quickly let our dissatisfaction be known. A co-worker that you do not respect gives you the stare. The salesperson acts like it is an effort to help you. Since there is nothing to be lost in these relationships, we say what is on our mind with no fear of consequences for speaking out or displaying a negative posture.

There is a price to pay, however, for not addressing negative messages in a valued relationship. That price is the relationship is going to change anyway, some day! Why you ask? As the number of negative incidences increases, there is a point that the tolerance for those incidences will decrease leading to one of two responses. Either we will explode which is the aggressive response or we will retreat from the relationship which is the passive response. Either way, the relationship is forever changed. Even if the change in the relationship is minute, it is never exactly the way it was.

So, how do we address destructive conversations and still preserve the valued relationship? We have constructive conversations! Constructive conversations have several tenets that need to be understood and implemented in order to disarm the negative and support the positive. The choices we make in our response to positive or negative conversations directly impact the relationship.

The first tenet is to have a critical conversation when we need to address situations that have a negative affect on our feelings. We know from the start that conversation is going to be difficult, but failure to address the situation is worse than not addressing it. Your significant other is always ridiculing you and if the situation is not addressed, there is going to be major fallout with collateral damage. The discussion that follows will be less painful than continuing to accept the ridicule. Having a critical conversation is a comparative ratio of having or not having the conversation, but not having it can lead to physical ramifications such as stress, insomnia, or loss of appetite. There can also be emotional ramification such as depression, anger, or feeling a loss of control.

The second tenet for a constructive conversation requires us to choose words and a body stance that are neutral allowing us to give and get information rather than attitude. Instead of using words that are inflammatory in a tone an octave higher than normal, with crossed arms and eyebrows close to your hair line, start the conversation with, "There is something that I need to tell you and I hope you will hear me so we can discuss this with out yelling at each other". This opening statement sets the stage and the expectation for having a conversation rather than an argument. If the situation starts to get out of hand, stop it by saying, "I thought we agreed not to yell at each other." If this does not help, you might have to say, "We are not getting anywhere with this, so maybe we need to stop here and come back to it later."

Sometimes conversation become so difficult and emotional for both parties that a "time out" is needed to re-group, re-think and re-feel what is really going on. There are occasions that the issue seems clear, but there are occasions where there is an underlying issue that is being disguised. Depending on the situation being discussed and the relationship between the two, time way from the issue or one another is needed. Time is sometimes the best healer.

Another key tenet to having a constructive conversation is to understand how to manage anger. Angry is a reaction when either an expectation was not met or there was something they did not get! A person that is angry wants two things; 1) to know they are being heard and 2) something is going to be done about it. In a valued relationship, disarming anger occurs when clues are given that we hear and understand (not necessarily agree) and we indicate that we are willing to do something to meet the need or expectation. Keep it positive. Do not list what cannot be done and reason for not being able to do them. Offer ideas or solutions that will help the situation no matter how small; it is the effort that will be appreciated.

The essence of constructive conversations is to remember what part we play in the relationship. We may not be the silent partner. It might be our tone or our body movements that is affecting the relationship. Don't be afraid to admit it!

Relationships are like algebraic equations; what happens on one side affects the other. We know that stuff happens to us all-day. Here is how the chain goes when bad stuff happens. Our attitude sets our emotions that directly affect our responses to others and in turn affects their responses us. Therefore, we have to be in tuned to what we are giving off. Only we can control our choice of responses to people and situations.

When we react negatively to others, we hand over our control or power because we are allowing others to affect our feelings and responses. We virtual hand over ourselves and say manipulate me. Max Depree, noted author, said, "We cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are." If we are in a negative space having destructive conversations, we have to come out of that space to become someone else. Someone who understands the dynamics of the present situation, someone who can orchestrate their environment and make changes for the good, and someone that is willing to put out the effort for change to occur.

Regardless of what side of the algebraic equation we find ourselves, we alone have the capacity to change destructive conversations into constructive ones by following the tenets that support a positive healthy relationship. See, it really is about saving the relationship. Good Luck!

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Author: Kim Barnes, RN, MHSA, Communication Strategist, is the founder of Focus-Link providing individual and group sessions on interpersonal communication and understanding its affect on personal and professional relationships. 25+ years in health care managed and administration has fueled my passion to understand the dynamics of communication, associated responses, and behaviors that better support positive relationships thorough a series of strategies to disarm negative behaviors. My workshops help others improve their relationships by applying positive communication techniques.

Creating a Dialogue Through Constructive Conversations

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