Difficult conversations

Update 28/11/13: Booking details for Cambridge Workshop December 19th 2013

I’m interested in difficult conversations.

The ones where there’s something at stake for us, something that we want. But where another human being is ahem, in our way. We often devote a lot of energy to avoiding having them. We spend a lot of time in our head, or complaining out loud to our friends, about the difficult character of the person we would like to engage with but can’t.

Lots of courses are run on “dealing with difficult people” for this reason. These tend to be quite long on analysis and full of very intelligent sounding principles and frameworks. Vast numbers of big organisations have, apparently, invested in them heavily.

The trouble with these courses, I think, is that they idealise how we should hold our conversations. I think this can be quietly disempowering… few of us can really live up to these ideals and the effort to do so can either leave us feeling we have failed. or leave us in a space of restrained politeness where we’re just repressing our more animal selves, albeit more skilfully than before.

I think the clue is in the title. Difficult conversations are difficult. We don’t help ourselves by attempting to make them easy by mental effort… in fact that often just makes the psychological rut deeper.

I’m much more interested in getting out of that kind of cognitive trap and creating a way to just try stuff out.

Since difficult conversations have high stakes, we don’t normally get many shots at having them. I like to work with people where we do a very specific type of role play where we get to experiment with different ways to have the conversation. With a big emphasis on playfully trying stuff out, and without putting too much effort into analysing or idealising. I think of it as the rapid prototyping of behaviour. It brings some of the wisdom of the maker and agile movements to the training sphere.

When I do this, I draw on all sorts of ideas and practices that have shaped how I work; things like gestalt psychotherapy, psychodrama, improv theatre and forum theatre, and the work of Tim Gallwey (the Inner Game). I like to see difficult conversations as an opportunity to experiment and uncover bits of ourselves that we don’t always deploy.  It’s a process of discovery and it can be so much more energising and exciting than attempting to follow a set of rules.

I’ll be offering a workshop in Cambridge on this on 19th December. (Christmas often gives us a lot of chances to practice difficult conversations!). Details to follow.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.