When Normal Conversations Go Crucial

Headshot TightThe Conversation

You’re sitting in the office of your practice leader doing a recent litigation post-mortem. As she evaluates your performance, she provides compliments on your effort. You begin to preen like a peacock. Why shouldn’t you, you sacrificed your holidays for the sake of your client. Always the dutiful Associate.

The conversation begins to shift to your deficiencies. You assume this will be quick given both the outcome and kudos you received. You were wrong. She starts slowly. Her critiques begin to accumulate. They are biting, blunt and unfortunately true. You begin to squirm in your chair. You nod in affirmation and assure her you’ll improve. She responds, “Well, you have no where to go but up.” Ouch.

She begins to chronicle your faux pas throughout the litigation. As she walks you through your deposition mistakes and the holes you created for witness examination during trial, your palms begin to sweat. Your heart rate is elevating. You interject that  she approved your line of questioning. She counters that you were given the responsibility of deposing certain witnesses and you should have been able to think quickly on your feet. She throws in, “Perhaps you weren’t up for the challenge.” You are ready to explode.

Instead you opt for the tersely toned and equally abrasive response, “Well, I attempted to meet with you on several occasions, but you were always “busy.” Inserting the appropriate pause before saying “busy” to infer the use of hypothetical air quotes.  Now somewhat taken aback and slightly irritated, she responds, “Perhaps if you spent your time being “more busy” we wouldn’t be having this conversation.” She inserted her dueling hypothetical air quotes. “You are getting paid to be a leader. If you want hand holding, this is not the place for you.” The conversation has just turned “crucial” and you’re not sure how you got there.

Signals a Conversation Change is Afoot

The ability to identify your emotions is important. However, a greater level of importance should be made on knowing how you feel before those emotions rise to the surface. How do you react when under pressure/ stress? What is your path towards anger? Or as they say in poker parlance, “what makes you go tilt?”

This ability is known as “Self-Awareness.” In essence, it’s knowing how you feel before the feelings become manifest. Self-Awareness is a cornerstone of Emotional Intelligence. There are 3 Self-Awareness Signal Categories. They can serve as your early warning detection system in identifying when you’re about to become unglued.

1)    Physical Signals
Breathing begins to speed up or shorten
Clinched fists or jaws
Muscles become tense
Palms begin to sweat
Stomach begins to tighten
Sweat across the brow
2)    Emotional Signals
Disconnect from conversation
Feeling ambushed
Hurt feelings
3)    Behavioral Signals
Constant interrupting during the conversation
Evasive/ unresponsive answers
Pointing finger
Raised voice
Retreat into silence

Restoring a Place of Safety

One of the best ways to regain control of a conversation is to return it to a safe place. Four ways of ensuring you return the conversation to a productive posture are to:

1)    Create a mental re-set in the conversation. Return your focus to the initial purpose of the conversation and away from the tangent.

2)    Recognize your emotions. Take the steps to return them to a productive place. (Self-Awareness)

3)    Create a physical re-set. Take a short break (bathroom, retrieve an item from your office). Provide both parties an opportunity to step away and take a breath.

4)    Introduce safety back to the conversation. If necessary, apologize if you made comments or exhibited behavior that hindered the conversation. Also create an opportunity for your conversation participant to do the same.

We have all been in conversations where our buttons were being pushed and instead of taking a re-set, we decided to take the bait. An attorney’s nature is not to retreat from a fight, but to finish the fight. Even if it’s by any means necessary. However, this is not always the most prudent or productive posture. The best way to stay focused is to ensure we have greater Self-Awareness of our emotions and feeling. In those instances when they do get the best of us, it’s equally important to re-set the conversation and get it back on course.

Part 1: The What and How of Crucial Conversations {http://www.onbeingablacklawyer.com/wordpress/the-what-and-how-of-crucial-conversations}

Part 2: The Groundwork for Crucial Conversations {http://www.onbeingablacklawyer.com/wordpress/the-groundwork-for-crucial-conversations}

Part 3: Approach and Strategy to Crucial Conversations {http://www.onbeingablacklawyer.com/wordpress/approach-and-strategy-to-crucial-conversations}

Elliott Robinson, JD is an Executive Coach, Workshop Facilitator & Mediator with Trove, Inc. (www.troveinc.com). You can contact Elliott for information on coaching, workshops or mediation at CoachE@Troveinc.com. Elliott brings his unique insight to the areas of leadership development, communications and career advancement. Elliott’s writing can be found at: www.erobinsoncoach.com, www.onbeingablacklawyer.com and his relationship blog, www.wisdominlove.com. Elliott is the co-host of Blog Talk Radio shows: The Wellness Blueprint (http://bit.ly/wbradio) and Career Impact Radio by Trove, Inc. (http://bit.ly/ciradio). You can follow him on Twitter at: @ERobinsoncoach.


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