When we talk about ‘tough times’ many of us will be thinking largely about the context of global and national economic situations. We are also likely to be experiencing the impact of living in these times both in our organisations and as individuals. Maybe there are specific examples in your life: anticipating the hike in university fees, a friend made redundant, whole organisations uncertain whether they have a future, a slump in sales, consultants fees much reduced, young people worried about whether they will get the sort of job they want, older people finding themselves leaving the workforce before they are ready, concerns about pensions: the list goes on.
In the face of all this, there are more conversations than ever that we might consider ‘difficult’ and requiring courage, skills and emotional intelligence.
Bill Drayton the CEO of Ashoka,the global association of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs, in a recent interview said:
“… The level of social skills that is required today is much higher than was required to be a successful person twenty years ago, and in ten years it’s going to be much higher still. This must be central in the definition of what makes a good manager and a good organisation.”
What takes courage for one person may be easy for another; we all have our own reactions to situations, stories we tell ourselves about what would happen if we said what is going on inside us and beliefs that get in the way of having those conversations with integrity.
This very often results in one of three reactions:-
- Avoidance / flight. I recall a time when I was brought in as a consultant, knowing that there would be some redundancies as result of the work we were doing. There was a lot of anxiety around and because I was afraid to say “yes there are likely to be redundancies and I feel uneasy about giving you reassurance because we just don’t know yet”, I avoided getting into conversations with the people I knew were most anxious. This left me feeling constantly tense and meant that I did not build the productive partnerships that I enjoy with my clients.
- Tell it how it is / fight. This usually occurs when we are angry and we blurt out some judgement that we regret later because it leaves us and the other person feeling bad and the relationship needs repairing afterwards.
- Keep your head down / freeze. There are many expressions that show the belief behind this one that it isn’t safe, e.g. ‘don’t put your head above the parapet’, ‘mustn’t rock the boat’, ‘it will hurt people if I tell the truth’. This can leave us feeling frustrated with ourselves and others. It also has damaging effects on our health and burn out is also likely.
All three are classic reactions to fear. If we experience fear, or any emotion such as frustration or unease as caused by the other person or the situation, we are likely to stay stuck and react rather than respond in the most effective way.
One way I have found very effective to transform this is applying a fundamental element of the Nonviolent CommunicationÔ(NVC) process developed by Marshall Rosenberg. We all have needs that are universal among human beings. We may express them in different language but we all need acknowledgement, peace, air, water, love, meaning, inspiration, a sense of order to name only a few.
Take a moment to close your eyes and imagine sitting down in front of a person in your life with whom you’d like to have a conversation that you will find difficult. Notice what is stirred in you: feelings and emotions? Sensations in your body? Changes in your breathing? The kinds of thoughts that are going round in your head and where they take you?
Now drop down to a place where you can connect to what needs of yours are giving rise to your feelings.
Here’s an example to give you an idea. The words in bold express some of my needs behind the turmoil and anxiety:-
I felt a lot of turmoil when I was recently asked to take on a piece of work because I had just got my rescue dog and had set aside time to be with her to settle her into her new home and wanting to have the space and time to fulfil my commitment to her. I was also looking forward to opportunities for building community and enjoying nature being at home more. I also need financial security and here was an opportunity to substantially increase my cashflow. In addition, the work was right up my street and I love to make a difference where my skills are valued.
Identifying the needs behind your feelings and focussing on them brings a sense of connection with yourself, an increased groundedness and being in your power – a perfect place from which to have a ‘courageous conversation’. Of course it takes quite a bit of practice and learning the Nonviolent CommunicationÔ process is like learning a foreign language. It is sometimes referred to as the language of compassion or language of the heart. There is no doubt that our hearts and emotions are involved in these tough times; it is no longer possible for people to leave their emotions behind at home and put on a mask at work, and neither does it serve any of us.
Contact us if you are interested in learning more about how to transform potential conflicts into peaceful dialogue and speak your mind without creating hostility as well as how to respond to others’ pain or hostility, by joining Gina in one of her group workshops.