I’ve been teaching a lot lately and teaching sure has a way of bringing home the lessons you need to learn!

Yesterday, I had the privilege of watching a group of professionals role play various difficult conversations they face in their work life.  No matter which group I visited to coach, or which scenario it was they were facing, I noted three key principles:

1. Go slow to go fast
When someone wants to say something important to another, there is a tendency to blurt out what it is, with the speed of a bat out of hell.  We go super-fast and inadvertently rail-road the other person with our verbiage. In every conversational scenario I visited, each person could have benefited from the adage:  “Go slow to go fast.”

What do I mean by that?

There are many aspects to this adage, and I will simply focus on one here today.  The most important meaning to this principle (which I invented after years of watching people simulating conversations) – is to slow down our speech.  When I watch people in role play, I can literally see a type of sound wave leaving from one party, wanting to reach the distance shores of the other person.  However, most people miss the opportunity for their own meaning to reach the other, because they race off to their next point and the next and the next.

Instead, it helps to slow down our breathing and land in our bodies, because those acts enable us to slow down generally and widen our capacity to be aware of the other person and how what we are saying might be landing on them.  I often coach people to stop and notice if that is happening.  When we speak, it takes a bit of time for the other person to “catch up” to our thinking.  So we need to create many pauses to allow the other person to catch up.

This fascinating article on the research Uri Hasson at Princeton is carrying out, gives scientific validation to the idea of sound wave resonance.  Hasson calls it neural entrainment. Check it out.

2. Make the conversations bite-size
Related to the above, when we have something significant we want to talk about, we not only want to say it all in one big verbal dump, but we want resolution… now!  This can add pressure and stress to a conversation, when really the best chances of a robust conversation is when we are relaxed.

This principle is a type of mindset, one we can adopt before we go into the conversation.  Aim for small wins and progress, especially in tackling big issues.  Rome wasn’t built in a day and transformative conversations weren’t either!

3. Assert, listen, listen:Rinse and Repeat

Yesterday’s course was about collaborative assertion.  A third key principle in communicating is to make an assertive statement, but then be prepared to listen twice as long in response.  Once you can “feel” the other person back into brain entrainment with you, then you can proceed to share your story or your assertion again.

I tend to think of this as a dance.  I take a step forward, but that may induce you to step back.  If that happens (and it often does when we share something significant about ourselves), we need to be with that other person as they step back.  Being with another as they retreat is often about showing them that you understand them through listening or by getting curious so you do understand where they are coming from.

The pitfall is that most of us either push our own ideas forward without doing this listening piece, or we listen and listen and never return to our own asserting or sharing.  That is the dance aspect.

Recently, a friend of mine showed me something she learned watching an aikido master and dancer.  Together, we joined hands, open palm to open palm.  At times, she pressed forward on my palms and I yielded. At other times, I pressed forward and she yielded.  This went on for a few minutes. During this time, the experience felt like one of us pushing forward and the other person pushing back.  But, at a certain point, there was a resonance between us.  An open, shared space opened up.  In the conflict field, we call that “common ground.”  We created a “we space.”  That “we space” is where change happens!

I feel grateful for this reminder, as today I was in a conversation with my brother about our mother’s care needs.  I noticed my own stomach clenching as we entered into the more difficult areas. I used the principle of making the conversations bite-sized and asked him if we could have shorter, more frequent conversations to get traction.  He was amendable and relieved. We both could feel that it would be easier to take some of these difficult conversations in smaller pieces.  And even though today’s conversation was short, I pointed out there were several action items for us both to do, which advances the conversation.

Some of my stomach clenching in today’s conversation was not paying attention to the need to listen to him twice as much when I assert.  Tomorrow, when we converse, I will be more intentional about sharing an assertion, then listening to him and showing him I want to know and I hear what he is sharing in response to my assertion.  I will also remind myself to feel my feet and my belly and my breathe so that I go slower to go fast!

These principles will add to the quality of our connection and our capacity to create a “we space” in which to continue to do creative and meaningful problem-solving about our mother’s care.

Would love to hear your experiments with any of these principles!