Thursday January 31, 2019 0 comments
By Ariana Friedlander
We've all been there, stuck in circular conversations that seem to go nowhere.
They're incredibly frustrating and can feel like a lost cause. In some instances you might decide to avoid the topic of conversation all together, which doesn't resolve anything. Or you may choose to double down and attack the scenario with gusto, which is also counter productive.
Circular conversations tend to be centered around an idea or problem that triggers people to become positional, even addicted to being right. Neuroscientists have proven that a simple word or phrase can release cortisol into the brain, signaling to the amygdala that a threat has been encountered. When that happens the primitive brain's threat response programming becomes engaged.
Unfortunately, the primitive brain is not so good at navigating complex situations in conversation. Indeed, the lizard brain, as it's commonly called, is hardwired to manage threat responses through fight, flight, freeze or appease. Threat response impulses is why people get positional when the primitive brain becomes the driver in conversations.
I had a client that was navigating a number of transitions on her team that caused emotions to run high. One team member was approaching retirement and there were mixed feelings about him leaving. He had institutional knowledge that was incredibly valuable but was no longer performing his job functions as was expected. Needless to say, it was emotional.
People had strong opinions about what should happen. That led to months of conversations on the subject that went nowhere. Her boss finally told her to just set a date for retirement with the employee. At this point she had to deal with the situation or she'd have a bigger problem on her hands.
As I helped her prepare for the conversation with the employee we agreed that she needed to approach it with an open mind. From there she did one simple practice from Conversational Intelligence called Double Clicking.
Conversations feel circular because we keep hearing and saying the same words over and over again that go nowhere. Hearing these words or phrases trigger a threat response. Think of all the times you've been annoyed by a buzzword. Or that one phrase like, "what you have to understand is..." that drives you crazy.
The problem escalates because we assume that we know the deeper meaning of the words or phrases we hear. But we don't!
Double Clicking is a simple practice that enables you to uncover the deeper meaning behind words or phrases. It allows you to uncover the root issue or concern so you may reframe it into an opportunity you can work on together.
By Double Clicking with her team, my client was able to identify a way forward that ensured the institutional knowledge was retained, the position responsibilities were fulfilled and her team member could transition into retirement in a way that was win-win-win. She did all of that by simply asking "What do you mean?" Or "What does X mean to you?" She specifically did that when commonly used words or phrases were mentioned.
I have found that this practice of Double Clicking works well in personal relationships as well. I have avoided many potential meltdowns by asking my 4 year old daughter, "what do you mean you need....?" instead of arguing that she doesn't need it (any parent knows what I'm talking about)!
Of course, the tone of voice you use when Double Clicking makes a big difference. If you've spent any time around a baby you will notice that they understand the meaning behind your tone before they comprehend language! So if you ask, "what do you mean....?" in a dismissive, judgmental or angry tone of voice you're good intentions will result in triggering a threat response!
It is important to be genuinely curious to learn more when you Double Click. We've talked before about embracing a beginners mindset. When you're open to learning more from your conversational partner your tone of voice will enable your good intentions to match your impact.
Double Clicking is one of my favorite practices in Conversational Intelligence because it is so simple yet profoundly powerful. Try experimenting it in personal and professional conversations in the next few days and you'll see what I mean!