It’s relatively easy to have conversations that go badly.
Make a snarky comment.
Say something insensitive.
Lead with judgment. Follow up with criticism.
Interrupt. Defend. Argue.
Descend into shame. Isolate with self-righteousness.
We all know the drill.
High-quality conversations, on the other hand, emerge from a combination of personal skillfulness, practice, and capacity.
When I ask people, “How resourced are you to have this particular conversation?” I’m often greeted with a head-tilt and quizzical eyebrows.
So, what does it actually mean to be “resourced”? Let’s dive in.
“Resources” are the various intentions, skills and capacities I’m bringing to the table that help a conversation go well. The more resources we each bring to the table, the more power and influence we’ll have to affect the outcome of the conversation, for better or worse.
Resources can be both internal and external.
Internal resources include things such as self-awareness, a broad vocabulary, a clear intention, emotional intelligence, empathic ability, and listening skills. It also includes the ability to track and regulate our emotions and the ability to focus our attention on what matters to us.
When we’d like to expand our level of personal capacity and internal resourcefulness, here are some questions we might reflect on.
1. How is my physical being?
Am I well-rested? Well-fueled? Well-hydrated?
Have I moved and stretched my body in enjoyable ways recently?
How much tension and stress am I carrying around physically? What would help me to alleviate and release some of this?
If we’re not well-resourced physically, we may want to sleep, rest, eat nutritionally dense and delicious foods, drink clean, refreshing water, massage our muscles, dance, walk in nature, and treat our bodies with tenderness and care.
2. What is my emotional readiness?
How triggered am I by the issues at hand?
Am I able to track, feel, and regulate my emotions?
Am I able to self-soothe and tolerate distress during conversations or do I get reactive, triggered, flooded, or frozen?
How aware am I of the deeper feelings and universal human needs that matter to me around this issue?
What memories from younger parts of my life flood me in these moments?
How much am I able to stay self-connected, self-aware, and in a place of grounded choicefulness as I imagine having this conversation?
If we’re not well-resourced emotionally, we may first need to do some empathy and healing work before we’re ready to engage. We may want to find ways of being seen, heard, and accepted by the empathic others in our lives, those who can help us surface and process our anger, our fears, our pain, our righteousness, and our desires to force others to do what we want.
Get therapy. Get empathy. Get acceptance.
Talk to a good friend, spiritual guide, counselor, support person.
Draw on your loving community of people who can help fill up your emotional bucket.
3. What is my deep intention?
Have I set a clear intention for who I want to be in this conversation?
Am I clear about what values I want to live and embody as I enter into this conversation?
Do I have a clear intention about what it will mean for me to model what I am wanting from the other person during this conversation?
Have I dropped my attachment to specific outcomes and instead focused on the process of the conversation as my main goal?
In order to have high-quality conversations with others (especially when we disagree about something), our primary intention needs to be building an effective relationship with the other person. In order to establish safety and trust, which are the foundations of high-quality conversations, our primary intention is to understand and connect with this other person by showing up in loving, respectful, and dignified ways.
4. What skills do I need to develop?
How is my emotional literacy?
Am I fluent in the language of universal human needs?
How able am I to speak in neutral observations, free from judgment and criticism?
Am I able to articulate a specific vision of how things might work better? Can I suggest some possible solutions and possible paths forward?
Developing these resources is exactly what practices like nonviolent communication, therapy and mindfulness practices are designed to provide. You’re welcome to drop into my free weekly call, sign up for my membership, or take any of my self-study courses. Developing internal resources is what we’re all about!
External resources include things like positional power, decision-making ability, social status, social capital, and so on.
And, I have good news and bad news about our access to external power.
The Good News: The more access you have to structural power, positional power, financial power, cultural privilege, etc., the more easily you’ll be able to make the changes or implement the things you’re seeking. You’re more likely, in short, to get your way.
The Bad News: If there is a power differential between you and the other person, the more you get your way, the more likely it is that others will resent you or judge you for what you want. Also, the more structural power you have, the more responsibility you have to make the conversation safe for others. Not only will it be more difficult for those with less power than you to tell you the truth about their experience, but it will also be more difficult for them to have empathy for your position.
Most importantly, remember this: Whenever we have more power than others (i.e., more access to internal or external resources) we have more inherent capacity and therefore a greater responsibility to create conversational conditions that feel safe and supportive for all involved.
And as always, I’d love to hear from you …
What resources do you find especially important or challenging to develop? What do you wish you had more of?
Tell me more.
I’d love to know. Leave a comment below.
WANT TO GO DEEPER IN THIS WORK?
Here are a few of my programs that might be of interest to you: