It’s common sense to attend to our physical and emotional health. But what about conversational health–is this also relevant?
Think back to the last time you experienced conflict. Did you have a desire to work things out with the other person, but they preferred to sweep the issue under the rug? Maybe it was the other way around? How did this conflict impact your mood, stress levels and ability to be productive? If you are anything like me, your mood went south, your stress went through the roof and your productivity tanked.
Harvard medical doctor Matthew Budd claims our habitual ways of using language contribute to many of our conflicts. In You Are What You Say, Dr. Budd points out five common conversational breakdowns that “not only create ineffectiveness and friction between people, but also produce negative mood states” and leave patients “exhausted, burned out and depressed.” Dr. Budd labels these conversational breakdowns linguistic viruses. Five of the most common are:
How many of these viruses live in your conversations? And, how can you avoid these viruses in order to maintain conversational health as well as physical and emotional well-being?
Below is a proven three-step process that can protect you from the five linguistic viruses, will transform your conversations and might even help shift important relationships from conflict to connection.
Step One: Blend Advocacy and Inquiry
Blending advocacy and inquiry helps us avoid the first three viruses. Advocating is a respectful way to ask for 100 percent of what you want. Inquiring expresses our desire to learn what the other person wants.
Imagine you want to go to a movie with your partner or a close friend. Blending advocacy and inquiry, you could say, “I propose we go see the new Julia Roberts movie this Friday at 8pm (Advocacy). How’s this sound? (Inquiry)”
Blending advocacy and inquiry puts what YOU want into the conversation. Equally as important, it invites the listener to put THEIR needs and wants into the conversation.
Step Two: Practice Active Listening
Active listening helps us avoid the fifth virus: not getting clear on what was requested. At times we listen as if we already know what the speaker is going to tell us. If things get contentious we may listen with an intention to defeat another’s argument, like a lawyer in court attempting to be right and make the other person ‘wrong.’ These sloppy and toxic ways of listening do damage to our relationships. A more health-inducing practice is active listening. There are two parts to active listening.
Continuing with the example above, the listener might say, “I heard you say you want to see the new Julia Roberts movie this Friday at 8pm. Is that correct?” By taking the time to make sure we accurately hear and understand the speaker we avoid making unclear promises.
Step Three: Negotiate to Agreement
We may think that negotiation is a highly specialized skill reserved for those in business and politics. But nothing could be further from the truth. We negotiate all the time! Consciously negotiating helps us avoid viruses four and five: not declining requests and promising when we are unclear on what was requested.
Continuing with our example, after the speaker agrees they have been accurately heard, the listener can now (i) accept or (ii) negotiate by offering their own advocacy and inquiry. Accepting would be,”Great. Let’s do it.” Negotiating could be, “I am busy on Friday night. I propose we see the Julia Roberts movie this Saturday at 8pm. Does this work for you?” Or, the negotiation could go in a different direction if you say, “I’d prefer to see the new Brad Pitt movie on Friday at 8pm. How’s this sound?”
Cycles of advocacy and inquiry invite both people to put their voices in the mix and negotiate until each person feels satisfied with the plan. This prevents feelings of guilt, anger and resentment from arising later, improving our conversational health as well as our physical and emotional well-being.
Hopefully this article clarifies your understanding of conversational health and offers a more powerful way to observe your interactions. Engaging with the practice of blending advocacy and inquiry and reflective listening will help you generate new and more satisfying results in your conversations, and help maintain your physical and emotional health.
Mike Cohen, MA, loves helping adults step into powerful conversations so they can bring more of themselves into the world. A Certified Somatic and Integral Coach, Mike is an Enneagram practitioner with expertise in Adult Development. Since 2002, he has guided thousands of individuals to become more empowered and effective via individual and group coaching and training programs in corporate, nonprofit, higher educational, small business and public program environments. In 2012 Mike launched Life 2.0, a powerful six-month learning community for those ready to develop their leadership abilities. An accomplished musician, Mike has released two full-length Kirtan albums, tours/teaches across North America, and in 2010 launched the Dattatreya Kirtan Institute learning community. Find more info at www.MikeCohenKirtan.com.