Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Anatomy of a Conversation – Richard P. Himmer

Some background first- these ideas were all talked about in my class but because I couldn’t write fast enough I’ve refreshed my memory from reading his book.  So some of the clarification of thoughts comes from that book – Listen & Lead; The Micro Skills of a Leader

Being a Leader
The goal of these classes was to learn how to lead or wield influence. There are 4 different settings in which we lead/wield influence and in which these skills will be beneficial.
      1. Personal life – learning how to safely “self-talk” and deal with anxiety and conflict
      2. Family life and with friends – learning how to deal with conflicts and behavior boundaries.
      3. Public leadership – how you interface with the world; organizational, religious, political, team
      4. Informal leadership – which is not dependent on position, title or personality type; anyone can become one if they learn the necessary skills. It’s the skill set that makes the difference and it can be learned. It involves transformation, changing.

The difference between a manager and a leader – a manager oversees objects; a leader leads people. A person with or without a formal title who treats people as humans, with trust and respect, is a leader. A title doesn’t make someone a leader. An effective leader is also a competent follower: He who has never learned to obey cannot be a good commander. (Aristotle)

An Old Afghan proverb states: “If you think you’re leading and no one is following you, then you’re only taking a walk.” Leaders by definition are followed. A leader must develop trust in the space shared with others in order for that to happen. 

The Importance of Emotional Intimacy
If we are to be a leader or wield influence whether it’s in our job, our calling or our family relationships, formal or informal, we have to be concerned with developing mutual trust and respect.  This is called “emotional intimacy” and it is only achieved in a safe space; a space free from judging, relating, “should-ing”, telling, bossing, bullying and meaningless surface talk.

Emotional Intimacy is predicated on mutual trust and respect. 
 “Friendship . . .is built on two things: respect and trust. Both elements have to be there. And it has to be mutual. You can have respect for someone, but if you don’t have trust, the friendship will crumble. – Mikael Blomkvist

 Emotional intimacy is the key to successful marriages and child rearing. It’s healthy and desirable to have emotional intimacy of varying levels with the people around us. It is sharing safe space based on integrity and honesty, trust and respect. It involves having conversations deeper than surface talk.  It comes from time spent in learning about someone else – not thinking or worrying about self. 

Learning to be interested in another person is the gift of being present. The value of giving up your time to completely focus on another person is priceless, as is the return on investment.

Suicide notes from youth state the top 2 reasons - #1. Being bullied;  #2. No one understands me Without the ability to connect, when there is no trust or respect, hearts will wax cold.

Without the ability to connect we become “co-dependent” – always seeking the 3 A’s as a substitute for a deep relationship.  The 3 A’s of co-dependence are Affirmation, Acceptance, Approval. When we are always seeking these three things in our interpersonal relationships we achieve only surface love rather than emotional intimacy. It is a common fallacy that the 3 A’s equal happiness – they do not. All true happiness in life is based on our ability to trust and respect.  President David O McKay said quoting George McDonald, “To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved.” Brother HImmer says "To be trusted is more productive than to be loved."

When we are young, we search our environment, seeking people who know us or who are interested in us. Notice how children that age are very active, inserting themselves into the world. – “Watch me”, ‘Listen to me” or “Guess what I did today”.  However if that search bears little or no fruit, we adapt our social skills. We try different tactics until our behavior garners sufficient attention.  We may seek to be “liked”. We may use our IQ to put other people down.  We may try to bully or dominate, or develop the skills of sarcasm or criticism.  We search for emotional intimacy and when we can’t find it we replace it with anger, dominance, an attitude of always being right, passivity or aggression.

Creating Emotional Intimacy through Conversation
The ability to have conversations on a healthy emotionally intimate level is not a common skill. I’ve been trying for the last month based on what I’ve learned and I’m not good at it! It’s hard!
We each have space. We are constantly assessing whether the space around us is safe to have a conversation.

Conversation Chemistry:  Brother Himmer spent time discussing how the brain works and what it means to “flip your lid” or be fragmented vs actng from a place of integration.  It’s interesting but hard to put on paper so you’ll get it without putting you to sleep. Suffice it to say that in a situation of trust all of the good hormones are secreted and in a situation of distrust – all of the bad ones – the ones that arouse our sub conscious “fight or flight”; “freeze or faint” reaction; that shut down our ability to empathize, to have creative thoughts, even to speak, and releases the “negative thinking” drug.

Our ability to create safe space for others is hindered by our level of comprehension or self-awareness which is often blocked by pride and the underground truth we fear to acknowledge – the huge pink elephant in the room with black-rimmed glasses that we won’t admit is present.

Ted Talk: The danger of intelligence mixed with confidence: We see ourselves as better than we are; overconfident; in denial about addictions; We are a narcissistic society. Maybe it’s better to see the glass as half empty.  Low self-esteem may be positive –perhaps a humble, less confident world would be better

The Four S’s of Conversation
 1. Safe –when you create safety, the law of reciprocity kicks in and we are driven to connect. Don’t share before invited
 2. Seen – feel felt. The correct definition of Empathy is the ability to acknowledge the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of another person without inserting you into the discussion.
3. Soothed – able to operate from an integrated brain rather than a fragmented or flipped brain. There is no evidence to support the notion that Logic is manly and Emotion is weak. Logic integrated with emotion is best.
4. Secure - mutual trust and respect

The Rules of Engagement for conversation are:
1) Safe Space free from  . . .
Criticism               sarcasm                judging                 relating                 persuasion          manipulation         condescension           “should-ing”           controlling           intimidation

2) Feel Felt - when properly used empathy can resolve conflicts, avoid contention, diffuse anger, mitigate disagreements, and create emotional intimacy

Brother Himmer was very passionate about the danger of sarcasm. He said if you are really good at sarcasm – wait until the next generation and the next use it on you.  It is passed on just like an addiction. An addictive process has a 4 generation shelf life. It is a maladaptive behavior. In one of his classes He described sarcasm as “verbal flogging” and described the process of “flogging”.  Very powerful analogy! – I’ll find it and share it in a later blog

How do we create safe space?
One important way is to ask questions.  But how you ask the questions makes a difference.  If you’re looking for the highest probability of success; to get return for trust and respect; to create a safe space – learn and use the following skills.

Skills for asking questions:
=>           Intonation – We have been trained to inflect our voice up at the end of a question. But research shows that an upward inflection raises anxiety levels in the one being questioned. Learn to inflect voice down at the end of a question especially when trying to relate with a teen or other highly charged relationship. Practice these sentences: “Have you seen Pat?”  “Are you hungry?”  “Did I get that right?” Now say again but first say “The wall is white.” Then use that pattern of intonation to practices the sentences above.
=>           Use the answer to the last question to know what to ask next.  Using a sequential process of asking questions – based on the answer given, protects you from overstepping their boundaries. Their answers give you permission to talk about the answer.
=>           Start with relatively innocuous questions about their interests, their school, their job.
=>           Ask open ended questions – How or Why.
=>           Ask questions that go down rather than horizontal surface questions.
=>           If you ask the right questions in trust and respect, people will want to share
=>           Ask questions with no motive except to understand how another feels through their eyes, trying to figure things out. There is no “me” in that space. It’s all about the other person.  You are investing in them. They are the expert and you are the student. Give them permission to be heard.

=>           Keep the space is neutral.  It’s not about my thoughts, my judgments, my commonalities, my opinions, or me. It’s about the other person, their thoughts, feelings, experiences, ideas, philosophies and happiness. I’m active in the story and can even govern the direction of the story based on the questions asked. Giving undivided attention to someone feels incredibly good and the feeling is not forgotten. You’ve earned their trust.