Friday, December 19, 2008

Use communication skills to foster rational conversations

With all the preparation for the holidays and the bringing together of friends and families, we often find ourselves involved in stressful situations. I invite you to take a few minutes and read the coaching reminder written by my friend, John Dyer. In a recent conversation, he and I talked about how the holiday season gives us a great opportunity to practice our communication skills with both colleagues and family. He writes:

One of the most difficult applications of the communication skills of coaching is to be able to use them when a speaker is in an extended emotional state, AND you are involved with or the cause of the emotional reaction. How does one maintain one’s composure and diffuse the emotion of the speaker so that the conversation can be rational and productive? It is not easy. Some possible suggestions for handling such a situation:

· Focused, sincere and genuine listening is essential. The listening set-asides are imperative. No autobiographical listening. No solution listening. AND, let us add two more in this situation. No “defensive” listening, and no “counter-argument” listening.
· Paraphrase is essential beginning with emotional paraphrase or combination emotional and content. Label the persons feeling. Examples may include: “ You are really upset about this”. “This is bothering you a great deal.” “You’re angry about how this was handled.” “You’re disappointed in me.” “You’re insulted because what I said offended you”. (Hey wait a minute – how come these examples are coming so easy to me?)
· It may be necessary to do repeated emotional paraphrases (3 or more) to allow the person to vent their feelings and lower the intensity level.
· What for evidence of the speaker’s reduced stress – slower, deeper breathing pattern, a reduction in the flush of the skin, reduced muscle tension, lower of pitch of voice and slower pace of speech.
· When the speaker is calmer present a thought provoking question that can focus the conversation on resolving the situation. Examples may include: “ What are some possible things we could consider doing to resolve this?” “What might I do to help rectify the problem?” “What might have to happen for us to avoid a similar situation in the future?” “How might I be more proactive in supporting you?” “What might be some alternative strategies that we could use in advance to make certain the situation doesn’t happen again?”

And I say with the smile – this is easy to say, it may not be so easy to do when you are equally involved emotionally – both in a work situation and maybe especially in a family situation.

Remember the coaching pattern: pause, paraphrase, pause and question. Your friends and relatives will be astounded at your conversational skills!

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