I have noticed while working closely with organizations that people are hasty about answers and solutions. There is a need in all of us to analyze the conversations we have with ourselves before we enter a meeting. If we examine the types of conversation we indulge in and choose which of those conversations can help us, we will notice that what we say and share will actually yield favorable outcomes.
I was facilitating a meeting between representatives of ‘workmen’, now called ‘associates’ and representatives of ‘management’, of a ‘for profit’ organisation, when they were negotiating a long-term settlement. As their bargaining proceeded I noticed that the data which was being presented by both sides were laden with assumptions. I wished to bring this to their awareness.
Bogged by Assumptions
In a recent essay, Raghu Ananthanarayan, a yoga practitioner, teacher and consultant talks about seven types of conversations we have with ourselves.
1. Cactus Conversations: Our assumption is that the conversation we are going to have is going to be painful. This results in our inner space being dominated by the attitude of a victim. Thus we enter the conversation, angry, frustrated and with fear.
2. Competitive Conversations: Our assumption is that the other person is going to prove us wrong. This results in our inner space being dominated by the attitude of the judge or one who must have the last word and not lose the argument.
3. Coercive Conversations: Our assumption is that the other person is wrong and that it must be pointed out. This results in our inner space being dominated by the attitude of the persecutor and, therefore, punishing.
4. Cognitive Conversations: Our assumption is that the other person is going to confuse us. This results in our inner space being dominated by the attitude of the rescuer, where we try to deflect arguments even before we have heard the other person fully.
All these conversations that we have, based on pre-determined assumptions results in us being pressured, and we tend to demand a certain outcome that we think is best for us. In doing so, we tend to become sensitive to the other person and selective in our listening.
Ananthanarayan suggests that such self-indulgent conversations can be altered favorably for both us and the other person we are in conversation with by suspending or ‘bracketing’ our negative thoughts and entering the conversations aware of three distinct voices that hold us prey — the voice of judgment (VoJ), the voice of criticism (VoC), and the voice of fear (VoF).
When we become aware of these three voices that cloud our thinking our mind is less cogitated and our willingness to be open and present becomes real.
Each of us, he says, has within us a friend, a Sakhi, and this friend is the voice of self-compassion, self-appreciation and self-esteem, which if we allow ourselves to listen will serve us well.
When we so listen to our inner voice of care and compassion, three possibilities arise:
1. Compassionate Conversations: Where we enter the conversation with a sense of curiosity, care and commitment to the relationship, and we are able to listen deeply.
2. Creative Conversations: Where we enter the conversation with the objective of employing enabling language, our ability to use words and phrases along with tone of voice and gestures will indicate we value and respect the person we are in conversation with.
3. Contemplative Conversations: Where we enter the conversation mindfully employing language and words that reveal our greatest potential and ability to stay with the unknown. This shows that we are truly willing to dialogue and are not caught up in wanting to predicate the outcome.
When I realized several assumptions were operating in the manner the two parties addressed one another, I requested each group to focus on the ‘inner chatter’ they were having within themselves; What was their inner voice telling them?
As each group became aware of what they were saying to themselves, I urged them to express the pressure they were experiencing owed to their assumptions. This pressure, they became aware, was forcing them to declare an outcome which they thought was favorable to them.
I then invited them to examine the facts of the situation and from there explore the feelings they were experiencing and the needs they thought were either being met or not. When the feelings and attendant needs were given a voice and amplified, both parties recognized that the outcome each of them was seeking would be sub-optimal if they allowed the ‘drama’ that was being acted within to prescribe outcome.
The result of the engagement helped them appreciate that they had not allowed their inner, well-meaning friend or Sakhi to speak with them. It peeled away the veil that was masking ‘good intent’ and making them remain ‘prisoners’ of their own making.
In summary it is evident if organizations can encourage their cohorts to nourish and nurture compassionate language within themselves, their communication will be responsive and not reactive.
The writer is a visiting at the Great Lakes Institute of Management, Chennai, and is an organizational and behavioral consultant. He can be contacted at email@example.com