2012-11-19T21:21:31+01:00

There Is No Such Thing as a Diplomatic Hand Grenade

My notes from book Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most.

  • p9 The number of things I am right about would fill a book.
  • p10 These are not questions of right and wrong, but questions of interpretation and judgement. Interpretations and judgements are important to explore. In contrast, the quest to determine who is right and who is wrong is a dead end.
  • p12 From the front seat looking back, it is easy to see how each child has contributed to the fight. It's much more difficult to see how we've contributed to the problems in which we ourselves are involved. But in situations that give ride to difficult conversations, it is almost always true that what happened is the result of things both people did - or failed to do.
  • p13 And once we've gotten our feelings off our chest, it's their turn. Are we to hearing all about their anger and pain?
  • p14 Understanding feelings, talking about feelings, managing feelings - these are among the greatest challenges of being human. There is nothing that will make dealing with feelings easy and risk-free.
  • Asking for a raise? What if you get turned down? In fact, what if your boss gives you good reason for turning you down? What will that do to your self-image as a competent and respected employee? Ostensibly the subject is money, but what's really making you sweat is that your self-image is on the line.
  • p25 We disagree with people all the time, and often no one cares very much.
  • p28 We don't see ourselves as the problem because, in fact, we aren't. What we are saying does make sense. What's often hard to see is that what other person is saying also makes sense.
  • p29 Arguing creates another problem in difficult conversations: it inhibits change. Telling someone to change makes it less rather than more likely that they will. This is because people almost never change without first feeling understood.
  • p30 First, we take in information. We experience the world - sights, sounds, and feelings. Second, we interpret what we see, hear, and feel; we give it all meaning. Then we draw conclusions about what's happening. And at each step, there is an opportunity for different people's stories to diverge.
  • p31 Each float, it seems, was pulled by a truck. Andrew, truck obsessed as he was, saw nothing else. His Uncle Doug, truck indifferent, hadn't noticed a single truck. In a sense, Andrew and his uncle watched completely different parades.
  • p32 Often we go through an entire conversation - or indeed an entire relationship - without ever realizing that each of us is paying attention to different things, that our views are based on different information.
  • p34 The past gives meaning to the present. Often, it is only in the context of someone's past experience that we can understand why what they are saying or doing makes any kind of sense.
  • p35 We get into trouble when our rules collide.
  • p36 We look for information to support our view and give that information the most favorable interpretation. Then we feel even more certain that our view is right.
  • p37 "I sometimes failed to persuade the court that I was right, but I never failed to persuade myself!" --Roger Fisher
  • p37 There's only one way to come to understand the other person's story, and that's by being curious. ... Certainty locks us out of their story; curiosity lets us in.
  • p38 One way to shift your stance from the easy certainty of feeling that you've thought about this from every possible angle is to get curious about what you don't know about yourself.
  • p39 Many of us agree with this rule, but it is not a truth, just a rule.
  • p49 Each would claim that their own statements were made in self-defense. Those are the two classic characteristics of the cycle: both parties think they are the victim, and both think they are acting only to defend themselves. This is how well-intentioned people get themselves into trouble.
  • p50 When we think others have bad intentions toward us, it affects our behavior. And, in turn, how we behave affects how they treat us. Before we know it, our assumption that they have bad intentions toward us has come true.
  • p60 "Who is to blame?" => First, did this person cause the problem? Second, if so, how should her actions be judged against some standard of conduct? And third, if the judgment is negative, how should she be punished? => "This was your fault" => it is shorthand for giving condemning answers to all three questions.
  • p64 There are situations in which focusing on blame is not only important, but essential. Our legal system is set up to apportion blame, both in the criminal and civil courts. Assigning blame publicly, against clearly articulated legal or moral standards, tell people what is expected of them and allows society to exercise justice.
  • p71 One of the most common contributions to a problem, and one of the easiest to overlook, is the simple act of avoiding.
  • p74 The problem is that things don't change, because each is waiting for the other to change.
  • p85 Feelings are too powerful to remain peacefully bottled. They will be heard one way or another, whether in leaks or bursts. And if handled indirectly or without honesty, they contaminate communication.
  • p87 When we lay our feelings on the table, we run the risk of hurting others and of ruining relationships. We also put ourselves in a position to get hurt. What if the other person doesn't take our feelings seriously or responds by telling us something we don't want to hear?
  • p89 We don;t cry or lose our temper because we express our feelings too often, but because we express them too rarely. Like finally opening a carbonated drink that has been shaken, the results can be messy.
  • p90 It's hard to hear someone else when we are feeling unheard, even if the reason we feel unheard is that we have chosen not to share.
  • p91 Before we can get to where we're going, we need to know where we are. When it comes to understanding our own emotions, where most of us are is lost.
  • p91 As we grow up, each of us develops a characteristic "emotional footprint" whose shape is determined by which feelings we believe are okay to have and express and which are not.
  • p92 Depending on how we handle them, feelings can lead to great trouble. But the feelings themselves just are. In that sense, feelings are like arms or legs. If you hit or kick someone, then your arms or legs are causing trouble. But there's nothing inherently wrong with arms or legs. The same with feelings.
  • p93 Don't knock down a wall until you know why it was put up.
  • p93 Learn That Your Feelings Are as Important as Theirs. Some of us can't see our own feelings because we have learned somewhere along the way that other people's feelings are more important than ours.
  • p94 When you are more concerned about others' feelings than your own, you teach others to ignore your feelings too. And beware: one of the reasons you haven't raised the issue is that you don't want to jeopardize the relationship. Yet by not raising it, the resentment you feel will grow and slowly erode the relationship anyway.
  • p97 Peanuts aren't nuts. Whales aren't fish. Tomatoes aren't vegetables. And attribution, judgments, and accusations aren't feelings.
  • p100 It isn't the shark that's changed; it's the story you tell yourself about what's happening. In any given situation our feelings follow our thoughts.
  • p112 Our anxiety results not just from having to face other person, but from having to face ourselves. The conversation has the potential to disrupt our senses of who we are in the world, or to highlight what we hope we are but fear we are not. The conversation poses a threat to our identity - the story we tell ourselves about ourselves - and having our identity threatened can be profoundly disturbing. Am I Competent? Am I a Good Person? Am I Worthy of Love? Suddenly, who we thought we were when we walked into the conversation is called into question.
  • p115 Working to keep negative information out during a difficult conversation is like trying to swim without getting wet.
  • p118 Life is too complex for any reasonable person to feel otherwise. Indeed, a self-image that allows for complexity is healthy and robust; it provides a sturdy foundation on which to stand.
  • p120 When you hold yourself to an all-or-nothing standard, even a small mistake can seem catastrophic and almost impossible to admit. If you are busy trying to shore up your "no mistakes, no failures" identity, you won't be able to engage in a meaningful learning conversation. And if you can't do that, you are likely to make the same mistakes again.
  • p122 "You never lose your balance. What is your secret?" - "You are wrong," O Sensei replied. "I am constantly losing my balance. My skill lies in my ability to regain it."
  • p133 Sometimes what's difficult about the situation has a whole lot more to do with what's going on inside you than what's going on between you and the other person. In that case, a conversation focused on the interaction isn't going to be very illuminating or productive, at least until you've had a longer conversation with yourself.
  • p137 There's nothing wrong with hoping for change. The urge to change others is universal. We want them to be more loving, to show more appreciation for our hard work, to give us more personal space, or to be more social at parties. To accept our career choice or our sexual orientation. To believe in our God or our views on important issues of the day.
  • p143 An important barrier to letting go occurs when we integrate the conflict into our sense of who we are. In our mind's eye, we are the least favorite son, the long-suffering wife, part of the oppressed group. We define ourselves in relation to our conflict with others.
  • p144 Difficult conversations operate at the core of our being - where the people and the principles we care about most intersect with our self-image and self-esteem.
  • p145 What information do they see that we missed or don't have access to? What past experiences influence them? What is their reasoning for why they did what they did? What were their intentions? How did our actions impact them? What do they think we are contributing to the problem? What are they feeling? What does this situation mean to them? How does it affect their identity? What's at stake?
  • p163 ... we have a deep desire to feel heard, and to know that others care enough to listen.
  • p167 The single most important thing Greta has done is to shift her internal stance from "I understand" to "Help me understand."
  • p168 Listening is only powerful and effective if it is authentic. ... The issue, then is this: Are you curious? Do you care?
  • p169 Only when you're fully aware of your thoughts can you begin to manage them and focus on the other person.
  • p181 Why is acknowledgment so important? Because attached to each expression of feelings is a set of invisible questions: "Are my feelings okay?" "Do you understand them?" "Do you care about them?" "Do you care about me?" These questions are important, and we have trouble moving on in the converstaion until we know the answers.
  • p183 The deepest form of understanding another person is empathy. Empathy involves a shift from my observing how you seem on the outside, to imagining what it feels like to be you on the inside, wrapped in your skin with your set of experiences and background, and looking out at the world through your eyes.
  • p185 In a difficult conversation your primary task is not to persuade, impress, trick, outwit, convert, or win over the other person. It is to express what you see and why you see it that way, how you feel, and maybe who you are. Self-knowledge and the belief that what you want to share is important will take you significantly further than eloquence and wit.
  • p187 My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. ... --Audre Lorde
  • p197 We go through the motions of trying, but incompetently, so that in the end we fail. We wait to speak until there's not enough time to deal with our concerns. We conveniently forget our materials. All our points suddenly disappear from our head. And voilĂ ! All of our interests are satisfied: we can feel good about trying, and secretly satisfied that we didn't succeed. This is the art of self-sabotage.
  • p188 Angela broke off her engagement because her fiancĂ© was "too nice". He never stated a preference, never argued, never raised his voice, never asked for anything. While she appreciated his kindness, she felt something was missing: him.
  • p191 This is unfortunately all too typical of many difficult conversations. We say the least important things, sometimes over and over again, and wonder why the other person doesn't realize what we really think and how we really feel.
  • p193 Being disappointed that someone isn't reading our mind is one of our contributions to the problem.
  • p200 The secret of powerful expression is recognizing that you are the ultimate authority on you. You are an expert on what you think, how you feel, and why you've come to this place. If you think it or feel it, you are entitled to say it, and no one can legitimately contradict you. You only get in trouble if you try to assert what you are not the final authority on - who is right, who intended what, what happened. Speak fully the range of your experience and you will be clear. Speak for yourself and you can speak with power.
  • p232 "Life is just one damn thing after another."
  • p239 Moreover, when memory is a factor, the level of uncertainty increases dramatically. Studies show that people are, on the whole, not very reliable witnesses, even when they are paying attention.
  • p240 So inquire into their view looking for the sense rather than the nonsense in it. Paraphrase it back, share where and why you see it differently, and ask them for their reactions. Look for different information, different interpretations and ambiguous information, or different assumtions about missing information that help explain your differing views.
  • p241 By the way, it's also worth asking yourself what you would have to learn to change your view.
  • p242 In this sense, the critical question is less whether there is absolute truth than whether and how well we can perceive it. Perhaps the only thing a human being can be truly sure of is that one can't be completely sure. That is the realm of God, even if you don't believe in God.
  • p242 Surprisingly often, an "obvious" and self-serving lie turns out to be a person's actual belief.
  • There are times to give in - when you're persuaded the other person is right; when the other person cares a lot about the outcome and you care little; when any solution is better than no solution and you need an answer immediately. But as a long-term strategy for dealing with difficult behavior, it's not going to help. Giving in rewards bad behavior, and what gets rewarded gets repeated.
  • p258 Control is the unilateral ability to make something happen. Influence is the ability yo affect someone else's thinking.
  • p269 The phenomenon of an internal voice and the three conversations within it [The "What Happened?" Conversation, The Feelings Conversation, The Identity Conversation] seems to be a universal and fundamental aspect of being human. What does differ across cultures is whether, when, and how the internal voice is expressed.
  • p278 And on the flip side, it is not negative feelings in themselves that distract us from productivity, but the failure to acknowledge them, and to deal with them directly, efficiently , and honestly.
  • p284 Unresolved conflict in our work and personal relationships sucks up energy and attention in sneaky ways that we often don't take account of. We should be adding up the time we spend fuming to our spouses, designing a workaround, lying awake thinking about what we should have said to them, and looking up their personality disorders on the Internet to bolster our case.
  • p285 Even if the friend can see what we're doing to make the situation worse, we rarely give them permission to challenge us - to help u see the other side's perspective and out own contribution.
  • p293 Life is not easy. What we need is a little empathy for ourselves.
  • p294 You're allowed to give up. As we've said, you can't change other people. When you finally give up the idea that you have the power to change others, you are giving up something you never had anyway - control. If someone is unwilling to examine their own contribution to a problem or take responsibility for the impact of their actions, you can't force them to. All you can do is take a hard look at yourself, be open to seeing things differently, change your own contribution, and be honest about what matters to you.

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