Welcome to HEN - Transforming Conflict for our Health, Environment, Negotiation
HEN is published each month by Julia Menard:
Helping the Workplace Engage - One Tough Conversation at a Time! juliamenard.com
HEN arrives at the full moon -
because light transforms darkness.
Full Moon: September 16, 2016 - Year 14, Issue 9
Table of Contents:
1. HEALTH - The Calm in the Conflict
"The more tranquil a man becomes, the greater is his success, his influence, his power for good. Calmness of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom.”
… James Allen
After studying and practicing in the area of conflict engagement and transformation for over 20 years, there is one lesson I keep learning time and again. It might seem quite obvious at face value; however, a simple principle does not make it easy to practice. What keeps revealing itself to me is that the more I come from a place of calm, the more any conflict I face dissipates. I can find a new solution, new resolve, more peace in my heart. Sometimes the other person has a change of heart through my own. The more calm and in peace I am, the more robust the outcome every time.
Conversely, the more stressed I get, the more trouble I seem to get into.
The newest example was with an acquaintance who was talking about someone else who was troubling her. It was the end of a long day for me. I was tired and the more she talked about this other person, the more her mood seemed to shift to frustration. The more stressed she got, the more I picked up on her stress. Within a few minutes, I could feel my body constricting in that familiar way that tells me I am separating from my wise self. I found myself starting to judge her in my mind and wanting to leave the conversation quickly.
As I reflected on the incident later on my own and in a more balanced state, I saw this person in a more compassionate light. I could see that she was simply struggling with what to do with a relationship very important to her. My thinking and perspective on her shifted as my own state of consciousness came into a restful state.
How is this awareness of our shifting internal states useful?
The first practice is to even notice that your state is changing. Catching ourselves becoming agitated gives us choice then about taking some self-soothing action. A friend of mine was talking about petting his dog as he engaged in a difficult conversation.
Whenever you notice that you are tired or stressed or being triggered by someone else, take that as a signal to give yourself some self-care right in the moment. Ask for a minute to think. Take a quick stretch. Sit in silence and watch your breath for half a minute. Each of these micro breaks can be enough to ground you back into your own resourced, wise self.
Judy Zehr and i have been exploring this topic for the last few years and it has resulted in our own book. We will be releasing more information about it over the next few months, but if you are curious - it is finally available for purchase here.
2. ENVIRONMENT - The Sixth Extinction and a New Story
“Something has given life to me. Something grander than my mind can comprehend is living through me. How can I not rest into that? My surest path to feeling a faith in life is to feel my gratitude for it. This which has brought me into being is a whole lot more intelligent than I am. That which called us into being in this exquisite, vast web of life is beyond our comprehension, but we can taste it, at any moment, when we put our intention in doing so, and put our attention on that truth.”
... Joanna Macy
Scientists have been talking for a while now about how we are entering the Earth’s sixth mass extinction, with land, plant biodiversity and mammals disappearing at an accelerated rate.
Does it not make sense that one of the mammals impacted by a dramatic ecosystem collapse is us?
This topic is difficult to sustain for long, as our own inherent will to survive kicks in quickly resulting in either denial that this is happening or despair that anything can be done. Yet, as Joanna Macy says: “Feeling the pain of the world is not a weakness.” She has been working with groups for decades on transforming those feelings of despair into compassionate action.
Macy suggests we do our work of feeling the strong feelings of despair together – in groups. Because it is in community that we realize despair gives us the delusion of isolation. When we can feel our despair for the suffering of trees, for example, together, we know we are not alone. Together, we can create a new story.
It may be a new story of dialoguing with nature more. It might be a new story of needing to join forces more. It may be a new story of becoming an environmental leader.
None of us know what the future will bring for sure. What I do know, however, is together we are stronger and clearer.
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3. NEGOTIATION - Curiosity Happens Before the Question
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery everyday. Never lose a holy curiosity.”
… Albert Einstein
Recently, I was speaking with a client about what we call in the conflict resolution world: a “statement-react” pattern. What we mean is a pattern of communication where someone says something, then the other person reacts with his or her own statement which prompts a reaction from the original speaker of another statement and so on. What happens then is a series of one-sided communications: You say something that triggers me; I react by defending myself with a statement. You don’t feel heard so you react to my statement with another one of your statements and soon we are slinging statements at each other.
True communing and new understanding, is definitely not happening.
How does one break out of this destructive pattern? Practicing to integrate one or more of the “soft” skills can break a pattern. One pattern-breaking skill to start with is the skill of questions. So, if someone says something that causes a reaction in me, I can choose to respond with a statement back. Or I can choose to ask a question - either asking it before I blurt out my defensive response or even after I make my reacting statement.
The power of questions is something most of us are familiar with. Someone told me they were taught 20 years ago how questions help break a “submissive-dominating” pattern. However, how many of us take the time to consciously practice any of these “soft” skills? For anyone who has either taken music lessons (or dragged our children to them!) - you know the value of practicing scales. To be able to play free-form or to play jazz or even to play well, we need to practice our scales.
Anyone who is a musician, or athlete, will recognize the value of setting up a structured practice. Just like setting up a practice session for musical scales, we need to get more specific and structured for a practice of questions.
Is there an event coming up over the next weekend, for example, where you could have many opportunities to practice asking questions? Perhaps it could be simply consciously asking only one or two questions and then to reflect on how that went.
It can be helpful to break down the mechanics of a question even further however. This is the level of discussing individual musical notes: questioning is not just asking a question, but firstly moving into a certain frame of mind from which an “open” question can flow.
The concept to practice is: Curiosity happens before the question.
I learned this years ago in the classroom. At the time, I was teaching students who had come to learn communication, negotiation and conflict resolution skills about how to ask “open” questions as opposed to “closed” questions. Closed questions are those questions that can only be answered with “yes” or “no.” "Do you know you shouldn’t do that?” is a closed question. Of course, I knew I wasn’t supposed to do that! Closed questions can provoke defensiveness and can be irritating as a closed question transmits what you are thinking to the listener.
Open questions on the other hand are those kind of questions where the conversation is divergent - it can go in any direction. So instead of “Do you know you shouldn’t do that?” - an open question could be: “What were you thinking when you did that?” Of course, tone of voice comes into the equation, but keeping it simple, open questions gather more information than closed questions do.
One time, years ago in the classroom, when I was teaching about open and closed questions, I had an epiphany that has changed how I have looked at questions since. I was coaching someone to ask these kind of questions in a negotiation role play with another person. This person’s questions were consistently closed, one after the other. It was easy to think that perhaps he didn’t get the concept of what an open question was.
I stopped the role play and asked him, firstly, to check in with his own self: how was he sitting? how was he breathing? Could he centre himself a bit: tap his feet on the floor, put a hand on his belly and take a few conscious breaths. He did that. Then, I asked him to look over at that other person across the table from him. I asked him to really look at that person sitting across from him. What might that other person really be thinking? Or feeling? Or wanting? Did he really, truly know?
He answered swiftly: “I haven’t a clue!” Great! So, let’s start again, but this time get curious first.
Curiosity happens before the question.
This man, who only minutes before had been a master of closed question and a disaster with open questions, became exactly the opposite. He asked a clear, powerful open question, which elicited information and an attitude from the other person which was not present only minutes before. This proved to be the turning point in their simulated negotiation; from then on, the conversation was smooth and they spoke more about shared information, and new understandings.
This is how to practice the principle of “Curiosity happens before the question.”
So, would you like to take on the task of practicing some scales this week? Could you take on the practice of asking one conscious question this week? Before you ask, get curious about that other person - about how they are feeling or what they are thinking or perhaps what they are truly needing from you.
Can you see them for more of who they are or perhaps for who they want to be? Ask from that mindset. Ask your question from that place.
I just did that as an intentional experiment. My step-son is visiting from out of town. I stopped writing, sat back, breathed, then looked at him and got into that curious place. I asked him a question from that place of curiosity. What ensued was a rich, deep conversation - going in a direction I could not have predicted and very satisfying. We are not in conflict and it’s not a difficult conversation, but it’s practice.
Scales are not the race - or the performance. Scales are simply practice!
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Julia Menard, B.A., Cert. Con. Res., P.C.C.
Leadership & Conflict Coaching, Mediating, & Training