There’s something about being “open” that creates a certain state of mind that can be very useful in difficult conversations.
Gordon White and I teach an 8-step model for Difficult Conversations. It’s one that leverages the combined 50+ years we bring to our conflict work as mediators, teachers, coaches and writers. We’ve really enjoyed the experience of creating the model and a course to go along with it. These last few weeks, we’ve been working on recording an online version (which I hope to tell you more about in the coming months!).
One key piece of our model is preparing for how you want to manage your emotional state going into a difficult conversation, so that you set up the conversation well.
One exercise we teach comes from Dr. Daniel Siefel, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and founding co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA. He has done this exercise with his patients who are not particularly aware of their bodily states until he helps them with the noticing. The exercise is also something Gordon and I have adapted and named the “Yes/No Exercise” and it helps raise self-awareness about what our bodies feel like in a “Yes” state and a “No” state.
To give you a taste of what we mean:
When you are in a “Yes” state –you are relaxed, receptive, resourced and therefore able to draw on your best self to continue through a difficult conversation. Outside factors can contribute to a Yes state, including how much sleep you’ve had, whether you’ve moved your bodies that day, or if you’ve heard a good joke!
The “No” state is the opposite, those times when you are feeling stressed and therefore you become more closed, and less able to access your resourced self. This is the reactive mode and we all have that state as well.
It can be incredibly helpful in difficult conversations to be more aware about whether we are in our “Yes” state or “No” state or traversing somewhere between the two states.
The exercise we do in our teaching involves someone saying the word “No” out loud seven times while you observe yourself in reaction to the word. You could even record the word seven times into your phone and play it back to yourself. You become a detective as you identify what your self-talk is and how your body feels and reacts in a “No” state. That same is then done with the “Yes” state. Say the word “Yes” seven times and notice how your body and your self-talk responds to the word.
This exercise could be done repeatedly as a way to strengthen awareness about whether you are slipping into a “No” state. This is a powerful practice, because the more we notice we are slipping away from our resourced selves, the more choice we have to take the simple steps we all know to calm down. We know breathing or counting to ten works in conflict, but unless we have the capacity strengthened or planned out that we will attend to our bodily and self-talk realities, we can easily slip into the stressed zone and create inadvertent damage.
Siegel even wrote a whole book about this that he called the Yes Brain. As summarized:
The Yes Brain
- Flexible, curious, resilient, willing to try new things and even make mistakes.
- Open to the world and relationships, helping us relate to others and understand ourselves. o Leads to true success because it prioritizes our inner world and looks for ways to challenge our whole brain to reach its potential.
The No Brain
- Reactive and fearful, rigid and shut down, worrying that it might make a mistake.
- Might lead to gold stars and external success, but does so by rigidly adhering to convention and the status quo and becoming good at pleasing others, to the detriment of curiosity and joy.
What I love about the concept of a “Yes” state and a “No” state is it allows for the possibility that we complex beings. We all can be rigid at times and open at other times. The more we can companion ourselves, be witness to ourselves, and stay connected to ourselves, the more choices we create in the world and the more harmony we can have in our lives.
It starts with noticing what a “Yes” state sounds like and feels like to you and a “No” state and being able to switch from No to Yes. The more we are in our Yes state, the more open we are.
“We often think that there is just one way to look at things – the way we always have. In fact, there are an infinite number of ways to look at most everything. An open mind allows for a multitude of perspectives from which to choose in any given moment. That suppleness of mind allows for true choice, and opens us to a whole new realm of possibility.” … Jeffrey R. Anderson, The Nature of Things – Navigating Everyday Life with Grace