5 Warning Lights That Tell You a Conversation’s Going Wrong.
In the late 1960s, a series of catastrophic plane crashes occurred without any apparent awareness of danger on the part of the pilots. In response, the aviation industry introduced an enhanced warning system that alerted pilots to danger and improved safety performance overnight.
This set me thinking about an equivalent warning system in the conversational world. By noticing and attending to the warning lights in a conversation as they appear – not as an after-thought – we can change the direction of a problematic conversation before things get worse.
Here are five warning lights to look out for.
- Blamestorming – when we accuse, criticize or assign fault to others. We’ll either do this when they’re out of earshot and can’t retaliate, or in a face-to-face conversation.
How can you tell when you’re Blamestorming? You’ll find yourself being more committed to apportioning blame than to resolving the issue.
- Escalation – when the temperature is starting to rise and your conversation seems to have become all about ‘winning’, regardless of the cost. Escalation is what happens when your emotions take over.
How can you tell when you’re Escalating? You’ll notice the intensity of an argument increasing FAST.
- Yes, But … – when you brush aside someone’s opinions because they don’t tally with yours, or dismiss their solutions because you don’t feel heard.
How can you tell when you’re in Yes, But …? The short answer is that you’ll notice yourself saying it.
- Dominatricks – when a conversation’s flow and rhythm starts to fall apart because you’re trying to drive the conversation on your terms. You’ll finish each other’s sentences or won’t allow space for input. This is a daily occurrence in meetings.
How can you tell when you’re in Dominatricks? It feels competitive – you’ll notice you’re interrupting the person you’re speaking with and not taking time to pause, listen and reflect.
- Mixed Messages – when you’re speaking at cross-purposes, or making assumptions without checking for mutual understanding.
How can you tell when you’re in Mixed Messages? You may not be 100 per cent certain what’s been said, when an action needs to be delivered, or who’s accountable. Or perhaps you’re not confident that others are on the same page as you.
So what can you do differently? Here are four practical tips:
- Develop agreements amongst your work team regarding how you’ll conduct your conversations. For example, if you decide that you’ll keep your phones off during meetings, it gives you permission to ask a colleague to stop doing their emails during a team meeting.
- If an interaction is moving into Escalation, press the STOP! button. Create some distance from it, even for a minute or two. It takes the heat out of the situation and gives you time to regain your center of gravity.
- When you notice you’re in Blamestorming, ask yourself what’s needed rather than looking to prove why you’re right. This immediately changes the direction of your thinking, and the tone of the conversation.
- Never be afraid to go back and check your understanding. This simple practice can save a fortune in money and effort, given that one study estimated the cost of misunderstanding for US and UK businesses to be $37 billion per year.
Every time you notice a warning light, you can choose whether to continue on the same course or change direction.
Rob Kendall has worked with over 70 organisations, including the 2012 London Olympics, Virgin and BBC Worldwide, teaching conversation skills to business leaders, sports professionals, teenagers and many others.
£8.99, available from Watkins Publishing