What Happened Conversations Tips and Strategies

Move from Certainty to Curiosity

  • Instead of asking yourself, “How can they think that?!” ask yourself “I wonder what information they have that I don’t?”
  • Instead of asking “How can they be so irrational?” ask “How might they see the world such that their view makes sense?”
  • Be curious about what you don’t know about yourself.
  • Reflect on the way you have constructed your story. Understanding the origin of your story helps you to identify your implicit rules: rules that tell us how things ARE or how things SHOULD be.

Adopt the “And Stance”

  • Don’t choose between two stories; embrace them both. This should not be heard as “Pretend both stories are right.” Rather it says something more like: Don’t pretend anything. Don’t accept or reject either story. Work to understand both.
  • The world is complex. You can feel hurt, angry, and wronged AND they can feel just as hurt, angry and wronged.
  • They can be doing the best job possible AND you can think that it’s not good enough.
  • You may have done something stupid, AND they will have contributed in important ways to the ways to the problem as well.
  • You can feel furious with them, AND you can also feel love and appreciation for them.

Don’t Assume They Meant It: Disentangle Intent from Impact

  • Avoid the automatic leap from “I was hurt” to “You Intended to Hurt Me.”
    • Actions: “What did the other person actually say or do?”
    • Impact “What was the impact of this on me?
    • Assumption: “Based on this impact, what assumption am I making about what the other person intended?”
  • Hold your view as a hypothesis.
Aware of Unaware of
My intentions Other people’s Intentions
Other peoples impact on me My impact on others
  • Share the impact on you: Inquire about their intentions
  • Don’t pretend you don’t have a hypothesis
  • Some defensiveness in inevitable.
  • When your impact isn’t what you intended:
    • Listen to and acknowledge their feelings first.
    • Secondly try to explain your intentions
    • Be open to reflecting on the complexity of your intentions.

Avoid blame: Map the contribution system

  • Don’t focus exclusively on your contribution, but starting there may open others up to looking at thiers.
  • Express emotions appropriately, and do so without blaming.
  • Exploring contribution is not blaming the victim; It’s blaming NO person.
  • Recognize hard to spot contributions:
    • Avoiding until now.
    • Being Unapproachable.
    • Intersections: happening to be in the same place at the same time with different histories and worldviews.
    • Problematic Role Assumptions: This is what bosses (parents, kids, employees, etc.) are supposed to do.
  • Role Reversal: “What would they say I’m contributing?”
  • The Observer’s Insight: Imagine you were a consultant or outsider. How would you describe each person’s contribution in a neutral, nonjudgmental way.
  • Map contribution by listing:
    • My contributions.
    • Their contributions.
    • Who else is involved?
  • Taking responsibility for your contribution early opens the door for the other person to join in the process.
  • Make your observations and reasoning explicit.
  • Clarify what you would have them do differently.

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