Healthy conversations on hard topics

BUSINESS MATTERS (BEYOND THE BOTTOM LINE) - Francis J. Kong - The Philippine Star

(Part 2)

To say that the disagreements were bitter would be an understatement. I belong to a Viber group of high school classmates, and they were viciously fighting over the merits and shortcomings of their preferred candidates during the elections. I was observing. No one was conversing and most were angry and vicious. Then I sent a message that put a temporary pause in their bouts.

“Candidates, according to our preferences, win; some lose. It’s a reality of life. But when friendships are lost, this is a more significant loss! Let’s all have dinner and learn from the experience.” I sent another message: “This has been the most emotional election we have ever witnessed. Wonder what our younger generation learned from their older parents and siblings in all of these. We need to educate our kids on the process of critical thinking and emotional management. Without these two, our children will find it hard to succeed in life.” There was a pause for a few minutes – maybe for 20 minutes. Then the fierce disagreements continue.

Why are people angry? Why can’t people appeal to reason and reality? Bring this to the workplace, and you have teams of people who are so sensitive and anxious a slight provocation from someone would cause people to flare up.

Perhaps it’s time we learn how to communicate and converse intelligently and healthily.

Today is the concluding part of our two-day material on Healthy Conversations on Hard Topics. We covered four points yesterday. Here are the rest:

5. Be a good conversation partner…

In arguments, there are winners and losers. In conversations, there are participants.

Offer yourself as both a research student and a resource person rather than a sparring partner. And strive to be a genuinely polite person.

Don’t insult or interrupt the other person. Do not dominate the conversation.

If they make a good point, acknowledge it. Literally say, “That’s a good point. I haven’t considered that before.”

6. Respectfully call out misinformation.

Telling someone, they are in error is not the same as telling someone they’re stupid.

You may find yourself in a conversation where the other person is flat-out wrong or using utterly fabricated information. Dig as to the source of their misinformation.

7. Beware The Danger Zone

If you become upset, your heart rate increases, and your vision narrows, be forewarned: You’ve entered the Danger Zone.

Nuances evaporate, and black-and-white thinking regains control. We are more likely to resort to pithy judgments, cheap insults, and personal attacks in this state.

What to do:

Say, “This topic is very personal to me, and I don’t want to jeopardize our relationship by becoming upset. Is it okay if we talk about something else?”

Say, “I can tell we’re both emotionally invested and passionate about this topic. Let us table this discussion for now before we say something hurtful.”

Dr. Adam Grant says: “When someone becomes hostile, if you respond by viewing the argument as a war, you can attack or retreat. If you treat it as a dance, you have another option  –  you can sidestep.

8. A good story is always better than a good statistic.

Facts and figures only go so far. Statistics may change minds, but they don’t transform hearts. A person will probably forget a number, but they won’t soon forget a story that left a mark on their soul. Stories are verbal acts of hospitality.

9. A healthy conversation is a first step, not the end of the journey.

If the conversation is winding down and you think it’s gone well, it’s time to take the issue outside of the bounds of the dialogue. I call this “the follow-up.” The follow-up can be as simple as scheduling another time to talk after you’ve both had an opportunity to process the conversation.

10. Know when to fold.

The only person you can control is yourself. The conversation may not end the way you want it to end.

The other person was better prepared and more informed than us. We may quickly realize we are way over our heads, or we may even be wrong.

If you find yourself outmatched, then take the opportunity to learn from the other person – time to learn lessons from the recent experience and learn to become better person out of it.

My thanks to Joe Terrell for his excellent piece.

So leaders take note and consider these ideas to help develop effective communications.



(Francis Kong runs his highly acclaimed Level Up Leadership 2.0 Master Class Online this July 5-7.  For inquiries and reservations, contact April at +63928-559-1798 or and for more information, visit www.levelupleadership.ph)


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