Regardless of your candidate preference, what was palpable to me throughout the entire presidential campaign was the fact that there was a lot of talking going on, but not a lot of listening.
On November 6th, just two days before the election, 60 Minutes aired a segment called, "The National Mood." Public opinion analyst, pollster and CBS News consultant, Frank Luntz assembled a focus group of 23 people that scientifically represented a cross section of the American public, spanning multiple socio-economic, cultural and political spectrums, to "take the temperature" of the voters. Some members of the group backed Trump, some were Clinton supporters, and some were undecided. Of course, the mood was contentious, and Luntz had a hard time gaining control of the assembly, as they were visibly angry and antagonistic -- interrupting each other repeatedly.
What struck me about this group was their complete lack of respect and interest in one another's opinion -- as well as their inability to listen. People were shouting over each other and no one was hearing anyone's views but their own. At one point CBS Correspondent Steve Kroft asked Luntz, "What happened to American culture? Why is there this lack of civility?" Luntz replied, "...There is no self-censoring. So we now say exactly what we feel. And goddamn it, you're gonna listen to me. I'm not gonna learn from you. You're gonna listen to me."
Authentic, two-way communication is a lost art. Our interactions have become relegated to short, digital bursts of texts, emails and tweets. It's seems that for many, it's easier to deal with communication that way -- but the problem is, it's one-sided. Productive debate or simply engaging in two-way dialogue can be a major challenge. This has led to a breakdown in interpersonal communication. Whether you're having a discussion with your coworker, spouse, child or friend -- many people lack the confidence, competence, and comfort to interact with one another -- particularly when the stakes are high.
Why does this happen? It is the fear of losing control, and lack of emotional composure and resiliency to handle high-impact and high-stress conversations.
This inability to communicate effectively leads to two basic types of behavior: avoidance of the difficult conversation all together -- or you plunge in, poorly prepared in the heat of the moment. Neither scenario generates a positive result. You can most likely think of a situation when you've circumvented a difficult issue, which led to more frustration and emotionally intense outcomes. And we are all guilty of jumping into a discussion without being mindful, or fully prepared -- which creates further discord, and conflict.
The impact of poor communication is immense. I see its effect in the workplace every day. This is why I've made it my mission and purpose to educate people on how to prepare for and navigate high stakes, high impact conversations with greater skill, and ease. The goal is to come together and say what needs to be said in such a way that the other person feels valued and respected and, therefore, can actually hear your message.
When you learn certain critical abilities that help regulate emotions when in conversation with others, you will realize a more positive outcome. The following four interpersonal skills, when used properly, help neutralize negative emotions which will support you in achieving meaningful alignment when you engage in any high stakes discussion. I have focused here on workplace conversations, but these steps can be applied to any high-impact dialogue:
1. Maintain or enhance the person's self-regard.
This is accomplished in part by recognizing the person, spending time with them (not only communicating through email or online app) and by acknowledging positive qualities and contributions. A respectful, non-condescending tone will set the mood for a productive discussion, engendering a sense of comfort and collaboration.
2. Listen actively and mindfully.
Stay focused and present. Refrain from interrupting others and take pauses to consider feedback. If things get heated, stop, take a breath, and ask more questions to clarify their position before answering. Ensure your body language reflects a collaborative tone as well. Uncross your arms, maintain eye contact and remain calm.
3. Provide an empathetic response.
This is not to be confused with sympathy or telling the person how they should behave or solve a problem. You don't have to agree with a person to empathize with them -- but you do need to listen, come to understand and respect their viewpoint, even if it is vastly different from your own.
4. Invite participation.
People need to be included. They have their own ideas, thoughts and opinions and they want to share them. Instead of doing all of the talking you need to ask for the other person's input -- even if it's difficult to hear.
Any meaningful discussion entails two-sided dialogue. No one ever changes their minds, or comes to understand another by being interrupted, insulted or belittled. If you possess the competence and emotional composure to enter into a conversation when the stakes are high, both parties have a better chance of attaining a productive, and mutually beneficial outcome.