8 (Quaker) Steps to Succeeding in a Difficult Conversation

Dear Friends,

We attended our Quarterly Meeting this past weekend.  The theme this year was “Difficult Quaker Conversations.”  I’m not sure I learned any new ways to try to have a dialogue with someone who is offering a different view point, but I was reminded of some lessons to apply:

  1. Before engaging in a difficult conversation, be clear as to your own emotions, reactions, beliefs around the subject.  Know the triggering words/emotions/body language that hook you into not being able to go forward in difficult conversations.
  2. Enter into the conversation with the intent to listen.
  3. Be curious and cautious.  Be curious and respectful.  Be curious and open.
  4. Ask questions.  Before presenting your viewpoint, ask the other person for theirs and then ask for clarification.  Ask for illumination.  Ask because you are really curious about how the other person came to their belief about the subject.
  5. Look for a way in which to agree with the other person.  (Transactional Analysis would call this “parent shrinking.”  Look for ways to sooth the person’s superego (parent thinking-acting part of them) and still remain honest and acting with integrity.
  6. Be thoughtful rather than emotional.
  7. Know that there is that of Love/God/Goodness in everyone.
  8. Thank the other person for their opinion/belief/openness/integrity.

English: People engaging in casual conversatio...

Before you think that these are easy steps, remember that difficult conversation opportunities can present themselves at any time, testing our ability to engage with an open and trusting heart.  With good intentions.  With integrity and curiosity.

Here’s an example of How NOT to do it:

During our Difficult Conversation workshop, a F/friend (a F/f means a Quaker who is also a personal friend)  turned to me and said, “I’m really disappointed in XXX.”   To which I replied, “Oh, I’ve been quite pleased with XXX.”

My F/friend looked quite surprised, turned and walked away.  Unfortunately she left the Meeting before I had mentally thumped myself for not practicing what we had just learned.  If I had only ASKED her why she felt the way she did–how much different might have been our understand and parting.  As of now, I’ve lost the face-to-face ability to not only practice having a difficult conversation, but to learn why she believes as she does.

I’ve thumped myself again–to look for ways to practice having difficult conversations–being mindful that difficult conversations can occur at any time with anyone.

Be gentle with yourself and those that present you with difficult conversations.

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