Conversation

Finding Authentic Voice, Part 4: The 6 Pieces Of A Successful Conversation

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Anger does not get us anywhere. It feels good to let out because anger carries so much energy with it, but it is not a long term solution for either he who lets out the anger or its intended victim. This is why conversations that are fueled only by emotion - any emotion - end up with the participants too distracted by the emotion that mature self-expression goes out the window. Examples include: any argument between drunk people at a bar or a kid crying to its parents about wanting a toy.

The needs of those involved are rarely met because it is an unattractive and ineffective display of self-advocacy. 

On the flip side, relying too much on intellect while suppressing emotion can be detrimental. Several times in the past I suppressed emotion in difficult conversations with significant others so that I could focus on what was being said in the conversation and offer a level, honest response. No matter how honest my response was, I came across as detached and unempathetic. Even though we both were feeling feels, the fact that I suppressed mine in the convo made her feel more alone and dejected. Suppressing mine only made the conversation feel worse in the end.

Luckily for everyone, there is a middle ground where the magic happens. The problem for everyone is that it is a difficult space to navigate. People get anxious about letting themselves feel strong emotions when trying to communicate in a respectful way. It takes practice.

I am here to tell you it is manageable and possible. I had to learn how to do it myself many times.

Whatever it is you have been ruminating on and workshopping with me over the past three weeks, it is time to let it out in a healthy and effective way. 

Last week you defined WHY you want to express the thing you want to express. If you have not, go back now and do it now. Knowing the Why gives you the objective of your conversation. The goal you would like to achieve. 

Example 1: in the scenario where you hate your boss, sure, you likely feel anger, but the reason why you will talk with HR will not be because you hate him. They will not care to hear that. Instead, your goal is to enjoy your workday more without the stress of wondering what your boss will do or say next. That is why you care to hate your boss.

Do you see the difference? 

The past client I described knew that telling HR his boss was a douche would not help his situation. Instead, our work together made him realize that he was going to speak to HR because he cared about his job and the cool ideas he had for it. 

The goal of the conversation is bigger than the person to whom you are speaking.

As a result, tell it as a story. Easy as that. When you sit down with the person to whom you want to express yourself, follow these steps:

  1. PREPARE THE AUDIENCE. Say: I have been having a lot of trouble with something and I want to have a conversation with you about it.
  2. TELL THE STORY. Describe ALL of the relevant data points to set the scene for the person and lay the framework for why you are having this conversation.
  3. LET A LITTLE EMOTION IN. Explain what is affecting you, how it is affecting you, and why. Be specific and honest.
  4. RESPECT THY ENEMY. Even if it is a boss you hate, explain their position, the things they say/want, and why they seem to do that, if you know. Do not whine, though
  5. ASK FOR HELP. Now that you have the context (2), your side (3), and the other party's side (4) presented, inquire as to how to proceed. Ask for advice on how to accommodate all parties involved so that you can move forward. 
  6. REPEAT WHY YOU CARE. Reiterate why you care at all. In our example, it is why you care about your job and what you are motivated to achieve within it.

Follow this outline for any conversation. Practice it. You will still feel quite vulnerable as you are describing the situation. Instead of anger or sadness taking over, though, you will feel the emotion behind your description and it will remind you why you care. 

This form of conversation honors your emotion while respectfully communicating your feelings and needs. 

As I said, I have had to practice this many times. Last year, I had this exact form of conversation with a boss in a side job because the culture amongst coworkers had become sadistic and toxic. I knew complaining and venting would not achieve any change, so I followed the above format in order to present every layer of the situation, of which my boss was not aware. I was able to explain how burnt out I felt and how it affected our work with clients. Because of the fact that I referred to how it was affecting other specific people as well and how we were all at a loss, my boss sought those people out and asked for their perspective the very next morning. 

Remember: if you are polite, honest, and authentic when you express yourself, you will succeed in conversation. If the recipient cannot handle it, then that is their problem. Speak your truth.

Try it out. You will do great.

How To Find Your Authentic Voice, Part 3: What Is The Point?

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If you have not read the past two weeks' posts, a) shame on you and b) go back and read them. As a Sparknoted summary that will not give anything away from the actual posts, Part 1 was about self awareness and Part 2 was putting preliminary words to something you want to express. Now that you have diligently followed my instructions and you have done the homework from the last two posts, you should have a simplified note of what you want to express in its raw form. Some examples could be:

 If you hate your boss: "GAHH he / she is such a self-absorbed a-hole!"

Or if you are mad at your significant other: "GAHH I wish he / she would stop telling me to X"

Or if you have a pitch to give: "Why can't they just tell how incredible my product is? 

That is okay. Let it be pure and angry. Vent into that notebook. It is the starting point. 

Now comes the most important part. The ultimate question: WHY DO YOU WANT TO SAY THAT? What is the objective of what you want to say? Why do you want to tell your boss that you hate him / her? Why do you want to grab investors by the collar and shake them into understanding why your product is so amazing? Why do you care about the way your significant other is addressing you? 

If you can answer the Objective question for your situation, you are at a huge advantage. I asked my client - the one I mentioned in last week's post - that question and, after he stutter-stepped for a second, we got down to the fact that he enjoyed his job, he knew he was good at it and that he had a plan for its success, but that his value of autonomy and innovation was being intruded upon by his manager. Ultimately, it was not solely that my client was mad at the manager as a human being but mostly that the manager represented an obstacle to my client's long term performance and growth as an employee. The next step - which you will read about next week - was taking his answer to the Objective question (and the personal goals and value sets) and crafting a conversation with the HR office in which he talks about his role and his goals for it and how it would benefit the company and how he relates to his manager in a polite and level way...instead of sitting down and reaming the guy out and getting nowhere but angry again. 

Your homework for the week is to think about the thing you so badly want to say and ask yourself why you so badly want to say it. What is the point of expressing it for you? What good would it do?

Spoiler Alert: it is emotional. 

When I discovered my voice for the first time at the Book Swarm in California, I spoke up not because I was angry at my colleagues but because we were not focusing on what was most important for the project in that moment. But why did that matter to me? What was the point of speaking up and getting them back on track? 

It is because I loved what we were doing. In less cliche terms, I was so immersed and so interested in the subject matter and what we were trying to accomplish that I felt like the discussion in the moment was an obstacle to our efficiently completing our task as a team. I cared about the subject, so I cared about my team’s success, and I spoke up to that authentic feeling. 

Truly why, on the deep level, do you want to give your boss a piece of your mind? What value set is involved when you tell your significant other how you’ve been feeling? 

Your unique answer to that question will ground you back down from the raw truth and remind you why you care. That way, you can have the polite, authentic conversation you want to have and express exactly what you want to express. 

How To Find Your Authentic Voice, Part 2: Start With The Raw Truth

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What are you keeping inside you right this second? What are you wishing you could tell someone? What do you wish that you had told someone and missed the opportunity?

Oh no, is this where Taylor lectures about regret and how to carpe our diems? Not really, but kinda sorta. Here is the deal: we all go through that pain of wishing we had said something different or just something at all in that moment that passed and will never come back around. Holy cannoli, I can think of numerous girls on whom I had a wild crush to whom I never took the opportunity to say anything because I was too scared and worse, I did not know how to say it. 

But that is not all true. I did not know how to say it effectively. We all know what we want to say - we rehearse it endlessly in our heads day in and day out - but never get around to saying it because we let fear set in of taking the risk and panic about the person's reaction, then we overthink the heck out of it to the point where every letter in every word sounds wrong because you cannot decide how you will possibly survive saying the words out loud in real life. I was the Lord Commander of Overanalyzing situations and conversations when I was in high school, I might as well have been paid for it. But when I think back, there is no question that I knew what I wanted to say. The overanalysis was my brain's attempt at controlling the situation that was causing me so much torturous anxiety before I even put myself into the situation. A constant preemptive fight or flight response.

Expressing your undying love for your crush in grade school is such a perfect example of this because 

  • A) hormones are RAGING
  • B) ALL the feels are happening
  • C) humans fear rejection
  • D) even good parents had not yet taught you how to handle risk and rejection
  • E) I had not yet started my company to help you develop authentic self-expression

Honorable mention: 

  • F) the terror of his/her friends being nearby, 
  • G) the subsequent gossip about the words you chose, and 
  • H) how little you focus on class work because you are thinking too much about seeing him/her by their locker between third and fourth period. 

Are you remembering how that feels? I sure remember it, and I am willingly subjecting myself to it as I write this. 

Fast forward to now. You are finally through puberty but instead of bearing your soul to a crush, the person to whom you want to express yourself is your boss and the acceptance you seek is from your coworkers. Similarly, you may be an entrepreneur who wants to pitch to investors or share your idea with potential teammates. Or maybe you have a job interview or a networking event in which you want to articulate your skills and value. 

It does not matter what the scenario is now because the fear and anxiety can be exactly the same as in high school. You are clear that you want to ask your boss for a raise or to fire Jack in cubicle 3 but you do not know how to articulate it appropriately in order to avoid sounding arrogant or whiney. You know what you want to pitch to investors but you do not know how to make the presentation structured and compelling. 

Overthinking is what we do. Our brains want to control situations, especially situations about which we are anxious we are anxious because it is perceived as a threat to our survival. 

NEWS FLASH: that is actually a good thing. The fact that you panic is a sign that you care! Otherwise, you would not spend so much time thinking about whatever it is! Boom, knowledge bomb. It is a genuine desire in which you place a lot of value. The only way that it becomes a bad thing is when you give into the fear, overthink the hypothetical conversation, and then never follow through with it. That is when I start my lecture about regret. 

So here is what you do: whatever your specific thing is that you want to say right, I want you to write it down in its rawest form. Even if it includes profanity, even if the words feel messy or silly, write it down. Do not manicure it or edit it in any way. Write down your first draft. That way, even if only a single sentence, it is out of your head and you bypassed the stress response. 

There is no pressure involved with the first draft. 

Maybe you hate your boss. Write down why or what you wish to ask for, anger and all.

Maybe you have a wedding toast to give. Write down your ideas in some order, no matter how cliche they sound.

Maybe you have a networking event. Write down the talking points you want to cover in conversation, no matter how boring.

Just get words out of your head and we will polish them later.

I had a client last year who was on the road to being fired, was angry about it, and wanted to go to HR to explain his side of the story. The problem was that he did not think he would be able to politely articulate his side without coming off as angry and whiny. 

The first thing I did with him? We wrote down what his anger would want to say about his manager - basically that he was an incompetent waste of space at the company. It felt goofy for my client to write it out as though he were venting in a diary, but it diffused his stress just enough to rationally take the next step, which was to discuss the true objective of talking to HR (to keep his job or only report his manager's behavior? Those are different things) and then strategically craft the wording in the most level and effective way for everyone involved. 

Overthinking is just that: thinking. So get the rough draft of whatever it is you want to express on to paper so that you get yourself ahead of your own brain and the fear. 

Your five-minute homework assignment: 

  1. Who do you want to speak to / what expressive task are you thinking a lot about right now?
  2. What do you want to say (uncensored and unpolished)?
  3. Write it down.
  4. Breathe a big sigh of relief.
  5. Kiss puberty panic goodbye. 

SILENCE IS GOLDEN: How saying less actually says more.

I recently attended a workshop on effective communication. It was three hours long on a Thursday morning. The content focused on mental frames we use that bias our interactions and affect the ways we engage in conversations with others. For instance, how formulating the belief that someone won't listen to you before you have even tried speaking to them inspires us to avoid any conversation altogether. The content subsequently covered a step-by-step method for conducting a productive conversation with respect, integrity, and confidence. 

I was content to learn that a lot of my conversations with people already follow that general method, but what was most interesting about the workshop was how direct and concise the content was. The prowess of the facilitator and the idea of "leaving your audience wanting more" not withstanding, it was a strong emblem for how communication should be. 

See, we humans think that we need to beleaguer subject matter to get our point across. That is often why it is easier to tend to be more wordy in writing than is necessary. Think of someone you know who - to put it diplomatically - is proud of something they know and loves to tell people about it ad nauseam. Do you often think that you would still get their point if they had concisely expressed their message once and left it at that? Aside from any arrogance behind talking about something longer and more frequently than is necessary, think about how much more time we would have in life if everyone got to the point and moved on.

Yeah, kinda depressing. But here is the thing. It is very difficult to be concise. It has been something I have been working on for years in interpersonal conversation. In text messages and college papers and cover letters I have improved over the years, but I know I can do better in person. 

Because my human experience on this earth is made up of my unique interpretations of events and stories based on what intellectual / emotional capacities my brain developed, how I understand a message or story from someone is guaranteed to be at least slightly different than the way they imagine and understand it themselves. Even when I feel like I totally get what they are saying, it could very well still be because I am thinking of something different. I will go over this more in depth later when we cover "conflicting narratives", but it suffices to say that we can all work on getting to the point.

"Why do we need to do that?" you might ask. Because wordiness comes from insecurity. We fill in our sentences with useless fillers like "just" and "like" and even a lot of adverbs to curb the edge of what we are sharing, whether out of fear of how the other person will take it or out of insecurity about what you are saying. If you read my post from a few weeks ago (see Friend-request your stress), I am willing to bet that you can identify interactions or individuals that cause you stress or insecurity. Those are perfect examples of moments to expect that stress, blurt out what you need to, and breathe into the silence that follows. Isn't it ironic that our stress response of adding more words to our conversations is our way of trying to shy away from a situation?

Next time you feel yourself start to blabber on and on, ask yourself: how much more do I need to share? Have I yet conveyed the point I wanted to make? If so, stop there and accept the fact that your message has been shared. If you have ever heard the old proverb Silence is golden, then let it be so and see what your audience does next.