I can’t believe it happened again. Someone labeled someone else by using a “You” statement. “You are angry.” It is so easy to make the “You are” comments without realizing the barrier we are creating in our conversations. It can force others to put a stake in the ground and not budge from their initial response.
This phrase has been reclaimed recently to discuss making a big move – taking a first step – motivating others or getting others excited to make a difference.
But what happens when putting a stake in the ground shows up in interpersonal conversations? Messages land harsher and with a stubborn immobility. Because of the message and how it’s received, others decide that they, too, aren’t moving from the stake.
How our messages are delivered can either help or hinder our connection with each other. (How we deliver our messages can either help or hinder our connection with each other.) Is clearer to me.
The other day I witnessed a conversation where someone labeled someone as angry. They actually said, “You are angry.” We all know those conversations don’t go very far. Usually, these encounters push the other person to stake out conversational territory. In this situation, the offended person replied, “I’m not angry. I am x.” The person’s defensiveness and cortisol was triggered and lessened the possibility of getting back to a place of connection and understanding.
But what if we can become aware of moving conversations forward rather than holding onto our stake in the ground? Our messages can shift by choosing a different tone, different words, and different approaches.
Three approaches can shift the outcomes of these conversations.
What do we do when someone is…(fill in the blank).
- Claiming Territory
There’s pride involved in taking ownership of projects and teams. It can be difficult to let go – especially when someone else is taking over. Maybe there’s a need to revamp a project. Stakes can pop up when the new person is trying to engage in conversation with the prior leader. Discussing what was – moving toward what can be. We wonder why they seem to be blocking the progress or not helping us move the initiative forward. It can benefit a relationship to move beyond the stakes when we can acknowledge the prior person’s efforts and the good work they have done. Rather than assuming they are having intentional inertia, think about yourself. How would you like to be honored? What would it take for you to pull up your stake, wish the new leader well and move on? Sincere acknowledgement can go a long way in creating relationships that choose to help rather than hinder forward progress.
- Having a Reaction
Change can be difficult. Conversations about reorganizing, new leadership, new approaches can bring out challenging emotions for people to handle. These messages represent the unknown and our place in it. If we notice that someone seems angry or sad or frustrated, we can inquire. We can share our own observation. Claim it as our own. “What are you thinking or feeling right now? I’m curious. Did I say something that landed wrong for you?” Check in with them. This allows us to take ownership of our participation in the conversation rather than labeling the other person. “You are x.” It also shows them that you are an active partner in the conversation. Holding the space for others with curiosity allows them to experience being seen and feeling heard.
And if we’re the person that is feeling the challenging emotion, it might flow more easily if we can recognize our cortisol spike and make a different choice. When we feel the energetic jolt in a conversation, we may need to take a moment to step away and come back with a calmer response. Add your transparency to the conversation and let the other person or your team know that you need a short moment. Breathe where you are or go take a walk. The movement and breath will support the lowering of your cortisol. Don’t judge yourself! Be proud that you took a moment before striking back and planting your stake. Come back to the conversation with a new perspective and shifted energy.
- Sharing Truth
As Brené Brown says in her book, Dare to Lead, we need to rumble. Rumbling produces clarity. We need passionate individuals pushing those of us that are more complacent or disengaged. We need all the emotions that come with voices being heard and hearts being committed and teams fully involved in building lasting and trusting relationships. We need space for uncomfortable feelings – after all, these are part of being human, and as long as they are claimed by the individual and aren’t directed intentionally to hurt, these uncomfortable emotions can lead to further clarification for our teams by merely asking: Why this reaction? Why this tone? We can be curious. What is happening for this person?
If we are self aware enough to put a stake in the ground, we can also be self aware enough to use the stake as a reference point and move relationships forward.
We all come with our own stories and reactions. Let’s examine how we are presenting our message or reacting to a message. What part is ours? What prevents us from being courageous and curious enough to share our truth so that we can become closer, rather than distant, from others? What gets in the way of us hearing another’s truth?
If we assume best intention, then others may provide the same grace to us. When their tone is slightly elevated – think best intention. When their words aren’t quite right – think best intention. When their energy is heightened with stress – think best intention. And, when we see ourselves reflected back in their observations about us, we will respond with transparency, claim what we are feeling, choose how and when we are going to share our thoughts/feelings and they will assume best intention.
Pulling up our stakes or moving forward from them can be one of the most difficult choices to make and practices to keep. I see it with my executive clients and in myself. We are emotional beings and it can complicate conversations. Practicing curiosity with others and ourselves opens connection for a promising future.