By Charlene Epp, Dialogue Resource Team
In Alice Price’s article “The Power of Talk”, published in ZING! in April, she wrote of the art of conversation. We may speak easily of conversation and be quite able to hold one that goes smoothly. At other times we may find ourselves within a verbal exchange and become aware that desired connecting point is missing. There may be a discomfort, an edge, an uncertainty of understanding that steers this conversation down a path of disconnect.
With self-reflection it may be possible to identify how the conversation went down a particular path, perhaps unintended. Some questions to consider might include: Did I become defensive? If so, at what point in the conversation? What did I hear the other saying that drew out this sensation? Is there something I did not hear or understand that may have helped me better connect with the other? What did I say that might have been misunderstood? Did I give enough information for the other to best understand what I was trying to communicate? How much give and take was there in the conversation? Did one or the other of us dominate?
Often it is a point of disagreement that leads to an inability to connect with another or to the misunderstanding of that individual. When talking and listening to one another the ability to hold off on conclusions, judgments or the need to have a particular outcome can be more difficult if we are in disagreement or unfamiliar with what another person is saying. In a flicker of reaction rather than reflective response we may find ourselves traveling a sharp or tension ridden path of disconnect.
One tool to increase our ability to pause from reacting is by exercising appreciative inquiry. This practice moves people from focusing on “the problem” within an interaction or situation, and moves them towards a more reflective response. Through appropriate questions it is possible to find the best within individuals or groups, and their ideas. When able to identify with the goodness within another’s point of view, there is increased chance of easing discomfort, edginess or uncertainty that may have risen to the surface in the exchange. This may be a point where connection can return to the exchange. With connection can come the change from simply a verbal exchange to a conversation or dialogue—a more even interchange for all involved.
Returning to a point of connection with another is not the same as arriving at a point of agreement. While agreement may be a result of the connection, connection may also be possible by increased respect of the other in spite of the remaining disagreement. Exercising a slowing down of reactive comments or questions and an increased pace of reflective response through questions to clarify understanding can strengthen cords of connection even amidst differences.
Changing the way we define what a conversation is, and how we participate in one, may change the outcome of the conversation. The biggest change may be how the movement from reaction to reflective response changes us as individuals. Are we ready and willing to be changed by our encounters with others, rather than being focused on changing them?