Over the last two days, I attended a course on having ‘crucial conversations’. What is a crucial conversation and what was I doing there? Well, the second question is simple. I signed up as part of my organisation’s training programme for managers to learn how to engage with their subordinates. To answer the first question, a crucial conversation is a conversation that two parties need to have because of three elements: one, both parties have differing opinions. Two, high stakes are involved. And three, emotions are running wild.

It wasn’t too far along in the course that I realised that this course wasn’t meant for just resolving issues with subordinates. It’s a course for anyone who has to work with another person.While the entire premise and presentation of the framework for crucial conversations appear very academic and highbrow, the crux of it is simple. We were taught to ditch pre-conceived notions of the person, start with facts of the matter we were trying to resolve, get the person to open up to us about any difficulties that they have and of course, we couldn’t get ourselves emotionally ‘triggered’ by anything the person might have to say and constantly remind ourselves to focus on the outcome that we were trying to achieve.

While the entire premise and presentation of the framework for crucial conversations appear very academic and highbrow, the crux of it is simple. We were taught to ditch pre-conceived notions of the person, start with facts of the matter we were trying to resolve, get the person to open up to us about any difficulties that they have and of course, we couldn’t get ourselves emotionally ‘triggered’ by anything the person might have to say while constantly reminding ourselves to focus on the outcome(s) that we were trying to achieve.

Among the few sets of skills taught, there was always the recurring theme of observing yourself as well as the person you’re talking to. It’s only by starting with the observation that we know how to proceed. The only flaw I found with this approach is that it doesn’t how difficult it is to attain that level of mastery of the skills necessary to have a successful crucial conversation. To use an analogy, it’s like telling us how to run a marathon by having us practice using fancy techniques to run over much shorter distances on a treadmill.

Sitting in the course, I realised that the much more fundamental approach is to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness training is always about being aware- aware of our surroundings, aware of others’ emotions and behaviours and most importantly, awareness of our own thoughts, emotions and behaviours. By practicing compassion and mindfulness, things like crucial conversations are but a byproduct or a way of life.

Overall, the course was a nice, academic way of putting mindfulness into practice.

 

 

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