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Ditch the drama and have more productive conversations

6th August 2018 | Beverly Landais

There are times when you will face a conversation that you anticipate will be difficult. Tackling such situations can feel overwhelming. Your natural ‘fight or flight’ response kicks in as you think about any unwanted reactions that you may meet from the other person such as upset, anger or denial. Unpleasant scenarios play out in your head and create a stress response in your body. You may find that your heart pounds, your breath quicken, your muscles tense and you start to sweat. Understandably you may avoid acting in the hope that the issue will resolve itself. Unfortunately, this seldom happens. Ignoring problems will not make them disappear. Better to plan the exchange so that you can achieve the best outcome. Here are some tips to assist you:

Begin by considering a trilogy of questions as recommended by resilience expert and author, Dr Chris Johnstone.

1. What’s the best that can happen?
2. What’s most likely to happen?
3. What’s the worst that can happen?

Write down your thoughts. Then consider your options and make choices that enable you to move forward towards the best-case scenario. It is a useful exercise to do as it is quick, easy to remember and practise. It also helps focus on the possible rather than the impossible, and that way progress can happen.

Deal with your worry about how the other person will react. While you cannot control their reaction, you can manage your own emotions by removing the drama from the situation. In turn, this will reduce the likelihood of the exchange becoming confrontational.

All dramas need players. When faced with an awkward conversation you can become hooked on a drama triangle of acting out the role of “victim or rescuer or persecutor”. Developed over 40 years ago by Dr Stephen Karpman, the drama triangle is a dynamic model of conflict. Understanding what is going on enables you to choose a more helpful response when faced with stressful situations.

What makes the drama triangle so potent is that people will switch roles and act out all three without ever getting out of the triangle. The typical behaviour seen as the drama unfolds: victims forget how to be resourceful and become helplessly dependant on others; rescuers become exhausted as they endlessly jump in to ‘fix’ problems; persecutors need someone to blame as this avoids having to take responsibility for their acts. 

Reframe the situation. It is easy to fall into the trap of being hooked on drama. Self-awareness is the first step to avoiding this. Pause and consider the issues. How would you like to proceed to gain the best possible outcome? Now think through the critical elements of how to craft the conversation. The act of planning will settle your mind and enable you to develop a step-by-step approach based on fact, not emotion. Ask yourself the following questions. Keep a neutral attitude and note your answers. Then act upon them. 

  • What is the purpose of the conversation?
  • What are the facts?
  • What is my view of the issue?
  • What might the subject look like from the other person’s perspective?
  • How is my opinion likely to perceived?
  • What are the key messages that I want to get across?
  • What attitude will I bring to the meeting to ensure a successful outcome?
  • What do I want the result to be from this exchange?
  • Is there anything else that I can do to prepare?

Before the meeting, prepare by ensuring you are not rushing from another session to this one. Find a quiet space where you can calmly gather your thoughts. Take some deep breaths then review your notes. Distinguish between opinions and facts. Test your assumptions and be non-judgmental. People don’t always see situations in the same light, so try to understand the matter from the viewpoint of the other person. Be open to discussion and willing to learn.

Following the session, take a few minutes to record your feelings and impressions. What went well? What might have gone better? Focus on what you have learned and how you might apply this to make an even better outcome next time. Then you can save the drama for film and theatre. 

6th August 2018 | Beverly Landais

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