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When I least want to listen and when I am most frustrated, I need to actually lean into the conflict to understand it better and understand their perspective better first, even though they still don't get my perspective.
Hello and welcome. I'm Shane Parrish, and this is another episode of the Knowledge Project, a podcast exploring the ideas, methods and mental models that help you learn from the best of what other people have already figured out. You can learn more and stay up to date with the podcast. At first, blogs podcasts wasn't more terrible at marketing, but we have a newsletter.
It's called Brain Food Comes Out every Sunday. It's short and sweet for the best content we've come across all week. It's worth reading and thinking about. It contains quotes, book recommendations, articles and so much more. You can learn more at F-stop Blogs newsletter. That's F-stop Logush newsletter. Over hundred thousand intelligent people subscribe, including most of the guests on this show, so be sure to check it out. On the show today is Sheila Heen and oh man, this conversation is going to blow you away and it's all about difficult conversations.
Sheila literally wrote the book on how to talk to people about difficult things. We're going to geek over over what makes for a difficult conversation, how to deal with them, how to think about them, how to avoid them, how to teach your kids about them and so much more. If you deal with humans, you don't want to miss this episode. It's time to listen and learn. Before we get started, here's a quick word from our sponsor.
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Check them out at Medlab Dutko. That's Medlab Dutko. And when you get in touch, tell them chainsawing you. Sheila, I'm so glad to be sitting down with you and talking to you.
Well, thank you for coming all the way here because it's really fun to have this conversation in person. It's much better. Yeah. Yeah. How did you end up studying conversations.
Yeah, I definitely was not seven years old with people saying, what do you want to do with your life? And thinking I want to talk to people about how we talk to each other. Like I didn't really know that that was even a thing. Right.
So I grew up in Iowa and Nebraska and went to college in California and I really didn't know what I wanted to do with my life, of course.
And so but law school always felt like, well, that's logical. My dad's a lawyer.
I always got the impression from him that he really enjoyed practicing law.
So I thought, well, I don't know what else to do. So I'm like many people. You go to law school.
So what did you do? Your undergrad and I was a public policy manager, which was sort of politics, philosophy and economics and. I came out of that thinking, I don't think I want to go into politics, but the understanding why people do what they do and unintended consequences was really interesting to me.
So and also the first year of law school is very intellectually stimulating.
It's really interesting. It's very absorbing. And we had one elective and the one elective that I heard I should try to get into was negotiation.
So I was lucky enough to get into the class, I take it, the spring of my first year. And I just totally fell in love. Like immediately I thought I could do this every day for the rest of my life and learn something new every day. What was the texturizing easing back then? Is that the getting to you?
Yes, and it was taught by Roger Fischer and Roger Fischer, who founded the Negotiation Project, the Harvard Negotiation Project, and who wrote Getting to.
Yes, he fought in World War Two and in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters.
And when he came home from the war, he found that of the six college roommates who started college together at the end of that first year, they stopped out. It was called to go to war. He was the only one who came home.
And it sort of motivated the rest of his life to try to find better ways to help people manage conflict.
And so he was a really inspirational person and a really wonderful teacher because part of his philosophy was that you have to walk your talk and you have to demonstrate what you are teaching and how you teach it, because teaching itself is a negotiation.
You are negotiating for people's engagement and willingness to take risks and to admit mistakes and to see what they have to learn, which is not easy with Harvard Law School students like failure muscles not so well developed in that population.
So owning up to screwing something up is a big negotiation right in the learning process with each other.
And so he was such an amazing teacher.
And negotiation in itself is such an interdisciplinary field that I just felt like this touches on everything in life and I want to learn it all, OK?
You were instantly, like smitten with negotiations and also like compared to torts and civil procedure, like maybe there was a problem with the comparison set that I was thinking, I want to do a civil procedure, do I want to do negotiation with people?
So, yeah, I right away I got involved.
I started doing independent projects. I interned at the nonprofit consulting group that operates on the side. I became a teaching assistant. I met my husband teaching negotiation. And he teaches at MIT. He teaches at MIT Sloan School. Yep. So we both teach negotiation, one at Harvard, one at MIT.
What's that Rivaldo like? We both think it's no contest, OK, although we don't necessarily disagree.
Exactly. But I have to say the best negotiators in the house are the kids. I mean, kids, as you probably know, are amazing negotiator.
What makes kids so effective at negotiation? Like if an adult tried the technique of kids, it wouldn't work.
But for some reason, some adults are using kid techniques. Do not notice this.
No, they did not learn any new strategies.
Kids are amazingly intuitive negotiators because whether it's conscious or unconscious, they're really paying attention to what works.
And as the adult in the relationship, sometimes you're just not paying attention to what you're rewarding. Right?
So if they ask the fourth and the fifth time and you're just like, enough, fine, go now, you've just taught them to pester four or five times or throw the tantrum because then they get something out of it.
And so they actually just repeat the behavior that works. And it takes you a while to realize what you are accidentally rewarding and teaching them to do that's successful with you.
And the other thing about kids is that you as the parent are relatively stable, meaning stuck in your ways. But kids are evolving all the time.
So every time you think you figure them out, they change it. So it's a really mismatched competition and they're always poking to see you, like always poking.
Yeah, they're always trying to see where the edges are. So how do you balance teaching your kids how to negotiate, which is a super effective life skill, and then realizing you're also a parent and not everything is a negotiation.
Not everything is a negotiation for sure. But what I think I have come to appreciate is what I want my kids to understand is if you want something, what is it that I, as a parent care about?
What are my interests right. That you need to satisfy to get me to say yes to what you want. And that may not be possible. Like you are wearing your seatbelt, because my interest in you not being maimed or killed or whatever.
There's just nothing you can offer me but about delaying your homework or something.
But doing your homework. Well, all right. What are my concerns? What do you think my concerns are about delaying your homework? You're getting home to take your perspective.
Yeah. You're trying to teach them what we would call second position skills. Can you step into someone else's shoes and imagine what the world looks like to them and what they care about, what their priorities are?
And not that you're supposed to guess accurately, but ask them questions, learn as much as you can, because that's what's going to help you craft an option that meets your own interests as well as the other person's.
So partly I part of the problem is I have a very low tolerance for them fighting. OK, right. Because it just drives me crazy. I'm like, just knock it off.
But I actually also need to give them space to figure out how to negotiate with each other because it's negotiating with your siblings and your parents where you learn a lot of those life skills for better negotiating with your parents and your sibling as well is it is holding it.
So my kids are now. 18, 16 and 12. OK, so I've got a college student, a high school junior and a middle school student, and they are it's funny because.
They don't think they've learned anything because that would end up in the air. Well, yeah, and but and they're actually really good at different things around negotiation. So that's been really fun to watch. And it's also taught me a huge amount about myself, of course.
What sort of things have you learned about yourself?
Well, one of is how little patience I have sometimes. Right. And. When I get frustrated, I can get dictatorial like we're done. This is not a negotiation, just do it. And that's not necessarily helping in some cases, but it's where I go when I get frustrated.
So realizing that for myself helps me be like, OK, this is the strategy isn't helping, is just escalating the conflict. I've got to take a break, walk away, come back and do something more productive here. Yeah. Yeah, that's a good for sure. Good place to what is tell me about your kids and negotiating with them.
It feels like a losing battle.
I mean, like every time it's just it's like they will relentlessly try one technique, try another, try another, try another.
It's their ability. I admire it. Yes. I mean, their ability, their resilience in the face of like knows.
And then I'm also conscious at some point, like I want to say yes. Just to, like, reward the tenacity.
But then I'm like, then you're teaching math. This is going to Pasteur and Esther Vester.
So I started trying to get them to be more persuasive.
And so they're eight, nine now. And so, like, if they want to download a new iPad app, the rulers have to get a sheet of paper and they have to write down like what it is. Yeah. Why they want to download it. And like, what are the benefits to me? Oh, not so. It's trying to take my perspective and encourage that.
And it's hilarious to see the things they come up with.
It's like we won't bug you for twenty minutes like you nailed it.
Yeah, that's right. And so it's trying to get them to do a little bit of research on the app too, and start thinking about like how do we persuade people, because that is a huge skill and a huge skill in life.
And, you know, it's interesting because on the first day of class when we teach negotiation at Harvard Law School. What I do is I have students actually draw a self-portrait of what they learned was effective as a kid negotiator. Oh, and so they introduce themselves by telling a story. I said, whatever age comes to mind doesn't matter. Negotiate with your parents, your siblings, your friends, your teachers. I don't care. But what jumps to mind and what strategies did you learn that were successful?
And you'll hear hilarious stories. Are these recurring like do you hear the same things every year?
Some of the same themes that you'll hear? So first of all, if you think about the population of Harvard Law students, some of them, their strategy was just to be so good and get such good grades and not to ask for much so that when they did ask, it was hard for their parents to say no, that would work for my kids. If you ever listen to this.
Exactly. Here's a tip, right.
Others of them, their parents asked them to do presentations like they had to make the pitch right. Others of them are building coalitions. Right.
Either splitting their parents to, like, go to one is the easier one to kind of persuade them, get them on their side and then go to the other to say, well, dad says this will be fine, or teaming up with other siblings and saying, like you ask because you're always more successful at this.
So they're really smart about it. And then later in the course, when they're getting frustrated, the cases are getting more complex as we're building skills and advanced skills. When they under frustration or threat, a lot of us just revert to pretty early strategies that were successful.
And so it's funny how many times we pause and be like, OK, are you doing that thing, you know, that you did with your parents?
That's not really not working for you here.
And yeah, often. And they see it and they attach it to it on the first day. And I mean, that's interesting.
That's another fun thing about negotiation, which is that all of us have been negotiating since we were kids.
So everybody's an experienced negotiator.
But you're not necessarily a good negotiator because you'll tend to just repeat the strategies that are successful for you, even into adulthood. Right. And so your strengths get stronger and your. Your capabilities get deeper, but they don't necessarily get broader, OK? And then the strategies that work for you, you start bumping into situations where that's really not working, but you don't have something else to work with. You don't see what else is possible in terms of how to approach it.
And so that's a lot of what we do when we teach negotiation as you're trying to help people see what your go to strategies are, see where they're serving you well, and then see where you actually need to build a broader repertoire of skills and tools and then put the tool that makes sense.
What are the what are the most common tools that people are missing or the feedback that they're not getting that would help them? Yeah. OK, this is an honest answer, but it's sort of a boring answer, this isn't about my pitch for you to come on the podcast.
No, no, no, no, no. You hardly even had to ask. It's like absolutely. It's lack of listening skills. And partly it's because when we get frustrated, first of all, I think that in life we often treat listening as sort of a strategy of last resort.
I'm sorry, would you say nice if nothing else works? I suppose I'll listen or I'll pretend I'm listening while I'm trying to figure out what to say. Well, that I find that that's what most people do.
Right. And it's not even a conscious thing. You just sort of like, oh, I can't wait for you to shut up so I can say this thing. And the whole time you're talking, I'm just thinking about like, how am I going to phrase this or am I going to work it?
And we assume that persuasion is about talking when actually the most persuasive strategy that you can take is a listening strategy for a couple of reasons.
Really good listening means you're learning a ton about not just what is under people's positions, you know, their interests, concerns, priorities, worries, anxieties. That is meaning that they're saying no so far. But also you're changing the relationship. And then the third thing is that there is this dynamic called reciprocity. I'm sure you're familiar with it. Right? Like the stronger social dynamics is that you'll mirror back whatever you get.
So if you attack me, I'm going to attack you back.
But if you really listen to me, I'm much more likely to then be willing to really listen to you. And so you're enlisting that as a reciprocal sort of set of expectations of each other in how we're going to approach this problem.
How do you teach somebody to listen like we all think that that.
Oh, like we just have to paraphrase what the other person is saying, like what is listening? Yeah.
So you think listening is like paraphrasing back?
I'm not saying that the covid sort of I feel like this is the trap. Yeah. So other people think that listening is like paraphrasing back. See how annoying this is. Yeah.
It's totally in a loop. Yeah. Yeah. And and so I do think that listening that's why I said this is a boring answer because it's kind of the answer that everybody knows. Theoretically we're supposed to listen more and then we think of sort of the parody of active listening, you know, could you please pass the salt? So it sounds like you like some salt. Tell me more about that.
I'm listening. Really matters when we're stuck.
Because and that's the time when it's actually hardest to listen, hmm, because when we're stuck, like you are not listening to me, I keep repeating myself, we're not getting anywhere. That's the place where shifting the dynamic to be willing to hear like what is getting in the way.
I don't understand what's going on is probably the very best thing you could do to unlock what's going on and to change the dynamic. But it's the time I'm least curious. And when I'm frustrated, I've got so much noise in my internal voice that I don't really have space to be curious about what's going on in your head, because I'm coping with my frustration with what's wrong with you. And so it's never your first instinct in that moment to listen. And it has to be a trained response.
So my husband, in addition to teaching negotiation, is a volunteer fireman and EMT and we have an all volunteer force in our little town. So, you know, he's come to this a little bit later in his 40s and so he gets sent to the fire academy. Well, first of all, the people at the fire academy are like in their 20s, right. They're going to be professional firefighters. So he's the oldest person there. They call him Pappy.
But what he learned, what you learn at the fire academy is to overcome your natural instinct to run toward the fire when everything in your body is saying run away from the fire.
And so it's become this image for me of.
When I least want to listen and when I am most frustrated, I need to actually lean into the conflict more, to understand it better and understand their perspective better first, even though they still don't get my perspective. And if I can train myself to do that, which is counter instinctual, then I'm going to be effective in the moments where it matters most. And that's not easy.
It's just like repeatedly over time you sort of like catch yourself catching.
Exactly. It's making the mistake, realizing, oh, I did it again.
Or in your case, your husband sounds like he could actually be like, hey, you're doing that thing. Oh, yeah.
Yeah. Oh, yeah. Like, what happens if you have two people who teach difficult conversations and negotiations having a conflict? Yeah. You just have more ammunition, like difficult conversations. Let's dive into difficult conversations.
Yeah, that book was phenomenal.
It's still impactful.
It's still sort of like a go to people give to people that are going through relationship problems that are going through struggles at work. Yeah. Well, start like at the ground floor. What is a conversation.
Yeah, great question. What is the conversation and what is a difficult conversation.
Yeah, that was my next question. Yeah. Yeah. So, so what's funny to me is obviously a conversation with two people are talking to each other.
But I also think it's sometimes when we're not talking to each other. Like we are estranged or we are specifically ignoring each other, or you might be talking to me and there's a whole lot that I am not saying to you, but I am saying it to you in in my head.
Yeah, I was thinking about this as I was doing research and I came up with this, the iceberg of conversation.
So you have what's above the surface, which is a very small fraction of the iceberg, which is like the words that people say. Yeah, and then you have below, which is sort of like you're unexplored or unsaid thoughts and feelings and total emotions. Totally. Yeah.
So as we were trying to understand these conversations, so so we had been teaching negotiation at the negotiation project.
I joined in the early 90s and you know, we were teaching, getting tips and interest based negotiation and people were taking our courses and going out in the world.
And periodically they come back and be like, this is great. Let me tell you how I'm using it out in the world.
But every once in a while, people will come back and be like, this is great and a lot of situations. But there are actually some conversations I'm in where it's really not helping. And in fact. When I use your approach, I think it might be making things worse. Really? Yeah, so that was a little bit of upsetting feedback to get and I don't know, Harvard being Harvard, we had typical reaction like, oh, well, clearly you're not doing it right.
Like, four methods working for you. There's something wrong with you, clearly.
I think eventually we kind of came to our senses and we're like, OK, maybe there's something here that we need to learn. Maybe there's something different about particularly challenging conversations.
And they often happen in ongoing relationships where there's history going on.
There's often a lot of uncertainty or disagreement, strong disagreement. And then alongside that, there's a bunch of strong feelings. So what's going on with that? And we kind of define a difficult conversation is whatever feels difficult to you. OK, so it could be difficult for one person, not for the other and not for the other.
Although what's interesting is that that quickly changes.
Like I may be worried about the conversation ahead of time.
I'm thinking this is going to be difficult.
You may not anticipate there's going to be difficult, but as soon as I put something on the table that you didn't foresee or expect and you realize how much disagreement there is or how frustrated I am with you that I haven't told you all these years or whatever, then it becomes a little more difficult for the other person in most cases, also, even if they feel misunderstood or whatever.
And that's not fun. So it's a little bit of a contagious dynamic. So both directions would have to be a difficult conversation.
Sure. Or is that a different type? Oh, no, no, that's included. Keep going. What else?
Persuasion, conversation, something. Almost everything. How does medium affect conversation?
I mean, like just email, texting, email in person. Yeah.
Media. Yeah, yeah. We first of all, when you're in this field you just think everything is in your field, so you're going to colonise the whole world. So we would say that you are communicating with the other side even when you're not speaking to them. Right. Because maybe they're hearing it through the grapevine. So and you may or may not realize they hear it through the grapevine, but your silence also is communicating something.
It's hard for them to interpret.
And what they get may not be what you intend, but there's some message coming through.
Now, you asked about the channel of communication or the medium.
Huge difference. I mean, what would you say is for you is the most likely to escalate? What channel of communication? Depends on who I'm talking to.
Yes, I say more. Yeah, I think, like, if I'm there's some people where if I'm texting, that's more likely to escalate or result in a miscommunication. Yeah. Than if we hop on the phone. Yeah. And there's some people where I know if I hop on the phone, they're instantly agitated because they hate talking on the phone. Yes. So texting would make much more sense.
Yes. In those cases. Yeah.
It also depends on what, you know, I'm guessing here. But what you sort of want to communicate, like what you want to understand, what you want to learn or what you want to get out of the conversation.
Yeah, I think that that's right. So I think that there are a couple of axes to think about. And you put one on my radar screen that I think is exactly right that I hadn't been thinking about, which is just preferences.
Hmm. Right. So so my husband hates talking on the phone like hates it.
And so even though the phone would be a much more efficient way for us to figure this plan out, when he answers the phone, he answers the phone saying hello, but he basically says, why are you bothering me? Like, that's the that's the message behind. Hello. He's already annoyed to start out with the conversation.
So although it would be a more efficient medium, yeah, it ends up being a less effective medium because he comes in already unhappy and I'm always trying for effectiveness first and efficiency sort of second.
Exactly. So that's one axis, which is do we have a preference and a reaction to some channels that then ends up being part of the conflict between us? But the other axis, I think, has to do with to what extent it's really dialogue versus serial monologue.
So in person communication, hopefully not always, but should be the easiest to be dialogue, not just because we can talk back and forth, but also you're just getting so much more information, body language, facial expressions, et cetera, like you're reading a lot more than just the words and the tone.
The phone removed some information, but it's still a back and forth in real time when you move to email.
Email isn't really dialogue. Email is serial monolog.
So I'm having reactions to your email, like by the second paragraph, and I'm reading the rest of your email through that set of reactions, which makes me suspect you have bad motives and, you know, sort of reads a tone into it which may or may not actually be there.
And then I write back while I'm in that triggered state.
And also over time, if we're frustrated with each other, like just seeing your name in my inbox, I'm pretty triggered already anxious. I feel like being in my inbox, I'm already pretty tricky.
Yes, exactly. Exactly. So for some people, texting falls somewhere in between is a little more dialogue because it tends to be shorter. But of course, it's cryptic. Right, etc.. So partly it's just matching the task. What kind of what are we trying to accomplish in this conversation to the right medium for that? Email tends to be the one that people default to because like, I want to craft the perfect email to give them a piece of my mind and feel safer.
But email is actually the one that escalates the fastest. And typically, if a conflict starts on email, it's really hard to solve on email. So I tend to tell people, just pick up the phone.
Why does it escalate the fastest? I think because although there's no emotion. Officially, an email, of course, there's a motion behind email, and so we're reading all these clues like how do you know whether there's a motion behind an email you don't have facial expression or tone of voice?
Well, I think like thinking about this, it's different if I know the person or not, because then I'm projecting sort of like what I know about into that email. And if I don't know them, I'm less likely to predict emotion, but I'm more likely to skin. Yes. Yeah.
So we you and then we get tons of negative mail too, like hate mail and all of that.
Over the years I've developed like a thicker skin to some of this stuff, so I read less emotion into it and respond less of myself. Yes. But at the start it was like, oh my God, somebody's unsubscribed. Like what did I do wrong?
What is wrong with me? Why are you telling me I'm spam? Yeah. What's wrong with me. Exactly right. Like what did I do. Yeah.
We take it also personally. Yeah. Yeah. That was so interesting.
I forgot we were talking about thought you know, like why email escalates more.
Oh my email escalates. Well I do think that when you know the person ok. Well, actually, let's start at the other end, I think that like the spam and the hate mail that you get, I think that people. It's easier, particularly when they are emailing strangers or leaving comments online for strangers.
It's easier for them to forget that there's a real human being on the other side.
And so they're sort of venting their frustration with the world and their life sometimes, etc. at someone else who says more about them, it says more sometimes about them and where they're at and how they're feeling treated by the world than it says about you. And they're not thinking that it's going to impact you right there.
Like Shane's not here to care. She's famous. She has this amazing, you know, followership. So he's not going to listen to me. And they don't understand that.
Actually, if you read them, you lie awake sometimes, especially in the early days where you were taking them as if they really were about you. Yeah.
And they're a little bit, I suppose, about you. But if you hear themes across them, but mostly they're about people forgetting that they're talking to a human being.
Now, let's go to the other end of the spectrum where it's someone you know well and you can tell that they're upset because something changes.
Your Spidey sense kind of goes off. Yeah, totally. Like they usually have a greeting and then suddenly no greeting. Right, right.
Or and sometimes you can't even, like, articulate why you feel that way, but you're just like, hey, something's up. Like I said, are you OK? Like, everything's OK.
And you could be wrong. Right. But they've either gotten more informal or more kirt their language choices changed. There's no punctuation. All of a sudden something something has changed.
Maybe they've gotten more formal and you're just like, whoa, did I offend you? Or just time lags like I haven't heard from you or I you immediately get something back. Like, no.
Yeah. Like, OK, sorry.
So anyway, I think what happens is when we feel frustrated on email, it leaks through right. In the words that we choose or the tone, etc. and then the other person reacts to that.
And because we're each reacting and reading the emails back and forth from the other person kind of through a triggered reaction and it can escalate.
And then don't forget that it's often true that people asked on that email.
So now there's an audience which adds to the reaction and the identity quake aspect, and it can be forwarded to anyone and it lives forever and it lives forever. And so it's just hard to turn that around on that medium.
It's almost like you can't in a conversation. You can make mistakes. You can gauge like how? Oh, I didn't mean it the way that you interpret it. That's right. Instantly sort of like correct then. Yeah, but email can be sort of like twisted.
And you and I would imagine this is starting to be more prevalent in legal cases where.
Oh yeah. Certain coming up. That address taken out of context or don't explain conversation that happened at the water cooler right afterwards where they clarified.
Yeah, yeah, exactly. And and one of the mistakes we make is that we get an email that's upsetting and we write back right away instead of doing time, taking time to wait until the adrenaline has gone down. We reread it and we think about what we want to respond with rather than how we want to react, how we will react, because we're not thinking about it. One of the things that Roger. Todd, that has stuck with me all these years is the idea of being purposive.
In the next thing you choose to do so the easiest way to understand is right when your kids are fighting your boys or girls, two boys, two boys. Right. So you say to one of your boys, why did you hit your brother? And what's he going to say? Because he did this.
Yes, it's like a boy. Exactly. He hit me. He called me and he deserved it. He deserved it. Exactly.
And sometimes it does. That's true. And yeah, exactly. And so what Roger would say is, I'm sorry when I ask you, why did you hit your brother?
I don't mean what caused you to hit your brother, right. I mean, for what purpose did you hit your brother? What is it that you were trying to accomplish? And so the idea of being purposive, that's interesting.
And not just reacting to what they just did to you, but thinking, how do I want this next thing to go and what do I need to do? What choice do I want to make in how I respond rather than react that will get us closer to something useful.
That's sort of the conversation that we try to have. We don't always succeed at this, but it's like, well, when you did that, what it really means is you lost control of your emotions yourself and you responded in a way that if you were thinking or in control, you probably wouldn't choose to respond.
It's got nothing to do with what your brother did, because that's all on you. I'm going to talk to him separately. And that's a different conversation. But it's like, what do you control and what don't you control?
Yeah, and and it's hard because kids are so good at seeing that it's not all their fault. Oh, yeah. And they hear the blame, didn't it? And so they're going to argue about why really he started it.
And so I was just defending myself. And this is something that we've done with our kids too, which is what did you contribute to the problem? Yeah. Right before he hit you, what were you doing? Right. And one of my boys.
That doesn't mean it's equal control, doesn't mean it's equal.
And that's important about joint contribution. When we shift from blame to joint contribution doesn't mean it's 50/50. It just means that there were choices we each made that got us here. And figuring out what those were tells us what to change and to fix. So one of my boys caught on to a joint contribution really quickly at a pretty young age so they would have something that would escalate.
And I would say to Pete, all right, what did you contribute to the problem? And he could turn on a dime emotionally, just like, OK, well, I called him a name. I passionate on that.
OK, yeah, that's fair. My other son just we get totally stuck emotionally and he'd be like he called me a name mom. I'm like, I understand that we're dealing with that separately. That was his contribution from what was your contribution? The problem?
He called me a name. Right.
So I learned that I actually just needed to give him more recovery time to go out of the reactionary period and then come back.
And now let's talk about it. Oh, that's interesting. Yeah.
So I think people's ability to like emotionally to a place of being more constructive really is just wired differently depending on who you are.
So we're talking a lot about conversations.
I want to give people the framework that you had laid in the book, which is the three different types of conversation.
So, yeah, I'm feeling and identity.
Yeah, it's what happened. So it's kind of like your iceberg idea that that any difficult conversation really has three things going on.
There's sort of layers to the conversation. So the first is the what happened conversation, which include which is really our story about what has happened, what is happening now and what should happen. And that that story has three key components. It answers the question, who's right? By the way, me always, as always. You can't be right, because if I'm right, then you're not right. Whose fault is it? So that's the blame piece.
And why are they acting this way? Like what are their motivations or intentions or character? Like, why are they being such a jerk or is such an idiot or so lazy or incompetent or mean?
So those three pieces are answers to those three questions. Kind of make up the key pieces of the story about what's happening, because we think the way that we see the world is the way that everybody sees the world.
It's not the way everybody sees the world. It's the way everybody should see the world. But do we even recognize that there's an alternative way? Like in the moment we are conscious to be like there's a different vantage point to this problem.
I don't know. What's your experience? I don't know.
Yeah, sometimes. And also it's easy to say, all right, there are two sides to every story, but mine is actually the good side. Right.
Like we know theoretically that there are multiple perspectives, but we've thought about it a lot. Right. And just seems like it's the most reasonable one. Even though there are other ones, they're not as reasonable or as right as ours. But but I should maybe put a caveat on that, which is it's not easier actually, when you think you were wrong or that you think you were to blame because the answering those same questions the other way doesn't make the conversation easier.
That can often be a difficult conversation when I realize I was totally wrong about this and it's my fault. But that's still one way to look at it. Right. So the first piece is that what happened? Conversation and part of.
The challenge is that from. Inside that story.
You're not going to have a better conversation, so you have to actually shift your internal voice, meaning that's what you're thinking and feeling in the conversation, you have to shift it first so that your first negotiation is really with yourself.
Hmm. To move from being focus on what I'm right about.
To be starting to be a little bit curious about why we see this so differently, because it seems so obvious to me that I'm right. So I'm not getting why you don't see that or what is it that I'm missing here?
And to move from blame to joint contribution, what do we each do or fail to do that got us here, which doesn't mean we did something wrong necessarily.
And it's not necessarily 50/50, but that will help us figure it out.
And then from being sure I know why you're acting like such a jerk to I don't know your intentions, but I can describe the impact that it's had on me.
So that's all inside our story, right, where we're shifting our internal voice and our story from that second place of like I wonder why we see this differently and we've both contributed. Like, that's such a healthier place to have a conversation. It can be a totally different kind of conversation. At the end of the day, I can still decide I'm right, but I have a better sense of why you don't think so. So still, the relationship is in a better place for us to solve the problem if we need to, because just understanding you doesn't mean that I agree.
Right, exactly. OK, so but I might have a better understanding of why we don't agree. Right? Because we have different we place different priority on or value on something. And so you think this isn't that important? And I think it's quite important. But now I at least get why you don't see. I think it's important. Right. So that's all the what happened conversation.
You asked about the framework.
The framework has two deeper things going on, because underneath that, the second thing going on is that in difficult conversations, we usually have a whole bunch of feelings going on and they're often a complicated tangle of. Fear and trepidation and disappointment and mistrust and betrayal and frustration and anger and hurt. In any combination and appreciation and. Really, satisfaction, who knows, hopefulness, despair, so part of what's hard is we're trying to figure out what do I do with all those feelings and particularly in the business world, I think.
It's easy to think like, well, we just need to keep them out, like just be objective and stick to business and keep those feelings out of the way because they just get in the way.
And the challenge is that often if we're having a difficult conversation. By the time it's become a difficult conversation, we really have two problems. One is whatever the surface problem is like, we don't agree on the strategy or we don't agree whether, you know, we should handle this parenting decision the same way. So we've got a surface problem that we need to solve that we disagree about. But underneath that, we've got a second problem, which is how we each feel treated by the other.
Right. Like you always dismiss my parenting approach. Right. Or you just don't get why this strategy is going to cause us to actually lose customers over the long term or clients over the long term. But you never listen, right? So if we don't talk about the feelings going on or how we each feel treated in the working relationship or the personal relationship, we're not actually addressing the deeper problem.
But that's weird.
Can we explore this for a second? Because I'm saying it's weird in the sense that we shouldn't talk about our emotions or feelings.
I'm saying it's weird in the sense that the meta message that's given in school is how do we become how do we override our evolutionary sort of programming, depth feelings, emotions and strive towards this?
And I'm not agreeing with rational arrived at rationality. Yes. Or we're effectively like A.I. bots walking around, you know, not having any future feelings or. Yeah.
And so how do we reconcile that view or, you know, this overarching message is one thing and then you're saying it's really difficult to actually get to the root of the problem if we don't surface our feelings and our emotions. And not only do we have to surface them internally, like to ourselves, because often we suppress them, we have to surface them to the person we're having this difficult conversation with. Yeah. And be vulnerable and open ourself up, which is like almost the antithesis of sort of like rationality.
And then we have to be heard. Right. Right. And risk that we feel that we're we're sort of acknowledged that.
Yes. And of. I know it's scary, right? So I guess the rational argument for that is like this gets you to a better outcome. So if you're willing to put your.
Yeah, and I think the other rational responses, that's just reality. Hmm. So I think we have and this is changing a lot actually recently.
But there's sort of a traditional story that there's rationality and there's irrationality. Right. There's being objective and then there's being emotional and that those are, you know, totally separate sphere spheres and never the twain shall meet.
And I think what we're learning over time and neuroscience is learning is that these two things are just really intertwined.
Mm hmm. That how you feel changes how you think and how you think. Changes how you feel. Yeah. And that objective decision making does not exist, actually. And that. Feelings are actually really important information, so if you look at System one and System two thinking, right, your intuition and feelings are telling you things faster than your rational brain can figure out logically.
But they're also their clues. But you don't want to rely on them, right? Because they can also lead you astray. There are full of biases and misinformation, but if you don't pay attention to them, you're going to really miss the boat on what's really going on.
So when we teach negotiators, it's like interests, our feelings.
Mm hmm. What people care about, what people worry about.
If we're going to get this deal done, you've got to respond to what people worry about, care about, can get excited about, can get on board with how much risk they're willing to tolerate. Those are all related to emotion and relationships. So and if they're going to make a decision, they have to know what their interests are. So I'm sure you're familiar with Antonio Damasio's work. So he's at the University of Iowa and he wrote a book called Descartes Error.
OK, I think I've heard of the book. I don't think I've read it there.
Yeah. So he is one of the researchers that took a look at what are called split brain patients. So there are people who either in terms of a fully rational or fully emotional a congenital defect or an accident.
Right. An injury.
It means that the part of the brain that processes emotion is actually physically separated from severed from the prefrontal cortex, which is your executive function, thinking what we think of as the rational decision making brain.
And he and other researchers were like, well, there are is a population of people who can't access their feelings actually just physiologically. So these split brain patients are the perfect population so that we can learn how to make objective decisions because they must be the perfect decision makers. And what they found is that these people can't make decisions at all.
At all. I mean, just asking them, when would you like to come into the lab? They have no idea, like they'll recite their schedule, but they have no instincts about, well, it's kind of a busy day, but that's going to be a little tight or inconvenient or I kind of prefer to come in on a Friday, like they have no preferences. They don't know what their preferences are and that you have to access feelings to know what you care about.
And what worries you, it's a signal, it's a it's a signal, and so interests are feelings. So part of the challenge and difficult conversations is that we have both of those things activated and both are really important. As I want to also be clear, I'm not talking about like in the middle of the workday. You know, I should be saying things like, you know, I'm just feeling really sad today. I can't really make any copies.
But if we could process my feelings for seven hours, I'd be really helpful. Right. Like, we don't work to get done.
But I am saying that if how we feel treated in our collaborative working relationship isn't working, it's going to get in the way of us being able to get done what we need to get done and solve problems as they come up.
So I don't think it's usually good advice to be emotional, but I do think it's usually good advice to if there is emotion involved, if you can name it and put it on the table, you can do it in a super professional way. I mean, if we're having an argument going around in circles in a meeting, if I can just say, OK, so hang on guys, I'm frustrated, I don't think that we're getting anywhere.
And I'm confused as to why that's a perfectly reasonable thing to say. It doesn't sound like I'm being emotional, but what I'm doing is just naming the emotions in the room. Right. Right. And that's going to cut to the heart of the issue much faster than continue to argue about the rational arguments. What does it mean to be emotional?
Great question. I think of emotional as. Sort of exuding leaking the emotion all over. Right, so. You know, in that meeting, it might be like, this is ridiculous, you guys like it's so obvious now I am expressing frustration, but I'm not actually very effectively saying, guys, I'm frustrated because this feels obvious to me. Right.
So describing emotion feels to me effective and putting it on the table for discussion that's different than being emotional, demonstrating emotion, or often we translate emotion into blame or accusations, not often, even intentionally.
But that's how it comes out when we're frustrated and that is often not as helpful.
Now I say often I'm hedging because I think there are some situations where it's useful to show how frustrated you are. And there's there's a funny contribution system. Sometimes that happens in some relationships where the more upset someone becomes, the more calm the other person gets because they're coping. Strategy in the face of upset is calmness.
Mm hmm. So and the more calm they get, the more upset the other person gets, right? Yeah. You know, people with this psychology.
And so the person who is so calm doesn't know what to do because they're like, I don't know what else I can do.
And the other person is like, why are you reacting? Like there's no reaction whatsoever to what the Congress is like.
You stop being so hysterical and the person who is getting more and more upset is like, OK, you're not getting either you're not getting how important this is or you don't care. Right. And both of those are even more upsetting.
So there's this funny way in which their coping strategies are actually making the problem worse, totally unintentionally. And so in that case, what I tell the person who tends to go to calm and they're wondering like, well, I don't understand why this isn't working.
I'm like, you need to tell them or show them that this does matter to you, that you find this actually quite frustrating or upsetting. And just if you tell them that, I think that that will help. I think that will start to reverse that cycle. And so that's why I'm hedging my answer, because I actually think showing emotion sometimes actually is helpful, because it breaks a cycle, because people are reading your calm.
Right, as not caring. Sometimes saying there's one thing I was when I was doing research for this that I was thinking about, this feelings thing that struck me is did a lot of work talking about my feelings in marriage counseling for whatever reason, and then for whatever reason.
For whatever reason, I don't know. I'm feeling do with the marriage bringing this up just for context. No, I like it. Keep going.
Giving away personal information. I don't tend to do that. And then I noticed that in relationships that I started after that I was more apt to bring up feelings very early in the relationship.
Yeah, almost like as a not even a test, but as a like the cost of failure would be really low. Right.
Whereas I still feel still reluctant in some cases to talk about these unserviced feelings with relationships that are long standing and feel so much harder, like there's so much more baggage, there's so much more complexity to them. But it's really easy with some of the people I brought up feelings with early on where I can bring up like the craziest things now and it feels safe and it feels like it's not going to impact our relationship. It feels like it makes us stronger and there's tons of benefits to it.
But even realizing that I still have a hard time with people I've known for like 20 years and you did this thing, we're 18. That really bothered me. Right.
Like, am I the only one that holds onto this? Yeah, you're the only one. No, of course not. Yeah. I mean. I love what you're describing because I do think in any relationship you start to wear a groove pretty early about what we do and don't talk about them and about how we handle feelings and whether we talk about them or not and which feelings we talk about.
And so once we've worn that groove that feels pretty comfortable and expected from each other.
Anything you're doing that tries to step out of that feels really awkward. Yeah. And they're not sure what to do with it sometimes. Yeah. Whereas when you're establishing new relationships, you don't have a very deep groove yet. So the stakes are lower because if they don't take the invitation, OK, that's fine, it's not that big a deal.
But you're actually broadening what we can talk about. Right. So changing the habit with an old friend or family can feel riskier whether or not it is and just more awkward. I think that's really interesting. I find it like it's also a signal for the type of relationship we're going to have. If I.
Yeah, if I put myself out there and I feel like I'm talking about something that I want to be comfortable talking to you about. Yeah. And it's not sort of like it's super vulnerable or anything like that. It's just like I want to be able to have these conversations with you.
And gauging the response is indicative, not perfectly, but I mean, it's sort of indicative of where that relationship will go.
And whether they are game aims to change that and be in a different kind of relationship with you. Right. And if it's an older, longer standing relationship, it's like you really want to go there.
So how do you bring that up in a relationship or like you say, you're married and you want to bring up feelings, but you've never really talked about them or like, how do you go about getting out of that pattern that you're.
Yeah, but it's a great question. Good luck. Yeah, good luck.
One of the things we talk about in the book is this idea that we each have an emotional footprint. Mm hmm. And the idea behind that is that we all grow up learning which feelings are OK to talk about and which you learn quickly are better left alone.
So because every family has signals that are sent about what we do talk about and what you don't talk about, and then, you know, you go to school, you have friends, you have early professional relationships, etc. So all of our individual relationships have footprints. But also we're bringing a set of sort of lessons with us from early experiences, writing about what's OK to talk about. And so now you're married to somebody who also has all this early stuff and a particular footprint, and then together you've constructed something.
And so part of it is maybe. Noticing which feelings they seem more comfortable with, whether that's with you or with other people in their life, and also noticing which feelings end up getting translated into something else, because if if we don't feel comfortable talking about it, feeling often will translate it into an argument or blame or anger is often a secondary feeling. So how can you say more of that? Yeah. Anger is often when I say secondary. I mean initially what we feel is something else.
Maybe it's hurt. So you hurt me and I don't feel totally comfortable saying like, hey, you hurt me, but it's very clear to me I should not have been hurt and you should not have hurt me. So now I'm mad at you.
Angry at you for being angry at you. Right.
And it might not even occur to me that under that anger is actually hurt or disappointment or confusion or loneliness. What I actually experience it as anger or frustration. And so sometimes it actually takes a little bit of work on my part to think I am really pissed. So, like, what's that about? Let me just unpack that a little bit because I'm not going to let go of anger. You're pissed, but there's probably more in that bundle that I should do some thinking about first before I know what I want to talk about or what I want to share and that I'm much better off sharing the more complete set of feelings like let's talk about marriage.
I love you and you're driving me crazy like I hate you right now.
Both of those are true. Well, those are actually true in this moment. A little more on the hate side than the left side right now, but I'm sure it'll course correct. I hope soon. Soon as you apologize.
But actually, it's an easier conversation to have if it's a more complete conversation. Right.
Like on the one hand, I'm really grateful to you and I really appreciate, you know, the following things that you did.
And I felt really frustrated and disappointed when you didn't do this other thing that's easier than just walking in the door and saying, like, what the hell like why didn't you do what you said you were going to do?
So actually, interestingly, someone was putting more feelings into the conversation.
Lowers the stakes, that's really interesting if you're in a conversation, what are the things that you can do to uncover these sort of like hidden feelings that people are feeling but not necessarily telling you about because you want to get to a better place in the conversation?
Yeah. That's something you control, you might not control how they frame the conversation or how they started or what they're saying, but you can you can recognize, oh, maybe there's more going on here.
And then what do I do to uncover to look below? Yeah, it's a great question. So let's circle back to that listening thing that we were talking about, because I often think that it's not just am I listening well or listening purely.
It's also what am I listening for me and I can listen for why you think that you're right or what you think I contributed to the problem. Those are important things to listen for. But I can also listen for how you're feeling about what's happened between us. And I need to be able to move between those between facts and feelings, because you might be in one more than the other at any given point in time. But so one of the choices I can make is to listen beyond the accusations or the blame cetera or the arguments that you're giving me for the feelings and just respond to the feelings as if that's what you told me.
Interesting. So, you know, you're. Yelling at me because I said I'd pick up the kids and I was late and I can just listen for the feelings behind it, which is. So I can imagine that was pretty frustrating. Right, and particularly because you suspected I was going to be late because it's happened before, because this is the seventh time it's happened.
So, yeah, if I were you, I would be frustrated. Right. So you're just and by the way, you're not telling them how they feel. You might say I'm not frustrated. You know, I'm just exasperated. It's like, OK, I'm I stand corrected. I'm not going to fight with you about what your feelings are. But now we're actually talking about them because that's the emotions are what's fueling the energy of that conversation.
And so actually, we can cut to that. We're actually getting the heart of it faster than continuing the argument about what the schedule was and whether the traffic was bad and whose fault it was.
So partly the way to introduce feelings, you can do two things. One is listen for what is the feeling that they're expressing maybe through being emotional or translate it into blame and accusations and just name that and acknowledge it and ask them about it.
The second thing that you can do is you can share a little bit about how you're feeling by describing it like you don't have to take huge risks. Just say, like, yeah, I'm disappointed in myself and frustrated myself or whatever for sure with you.
That reciprocity thing.
Right. Means if I'm going there, I'm inviting you to reciprocate. I can't guarantee you're going to take the invitation. And I may need to be persistent about it, but if I share my feelings, you can't really argue with that, right?
You're not frustrated. Let me check.
Yeah, no, I know I'm angry, you know.
Yeah, I'm frustrated even more often. I've found that feeling sort of under no.
Maybe for just me, but for other people. I would imagine it's very similar. They sort of like cause some sort of anxiety in me around the conversation. Yeah. To varying degrees. And I wouldn't sometimes it might prevent me from having the conversation.
Yeah. What are the what are ways that we can deal with that sort of like internal.
Yeah. Well, so shall we talk about the third layer identity, identity, because we haven't talked about that, we probably shouldn't. It's totally related to what you just asked, so. So part of what we found is that when we talk to people about their most difficult conversations and we start to pay attention to what they're thinking and feeling and often not saying in the conversation, there was a very consistent structure.
So what people are preoccupied with in their internal voice is a story about what happened, as we've talked about a whole bunch of feelings that are trying to figure out how to handle. And then the deepest level, the third level is what we call the identity conversation, which is kind of the conversation I'm having with myself about myself. What does the situation suggest about me?
That I'm not a good spouse, that I'm not a good person, that I'm not. Competent. That I'm not worthy of love in some way, you know, sometimes people say one of the things I have a hard time with is saying no. And that's often related to identity, that there's a story you tell about yourself like you're a good friend and you're a team player, and if you'd never abandon someone in need and if that's your story, anytime someone asks you for help.
You're not just saying the word no, you're doing something that feels like it's in conflict with who you want to be in the world, right? Like quitting a job, like your decision. Well, how can you be disloyal or how can you hurt someone else so much by breaking up with them? And so if a conversation feels difficult, there's often something about identity, something the situation suggests about you that raises the stakes on the whole conversation. And so that's part of the anxiety that then drives the intensity of the feelings.
And those feelings color our story about what happened and what should happen in the future. And so these three actually worked together, but it's often identity at the deepest level.
That is the hardest part, which is we're being forced to confront our identity with ourselves and acknowledge that maybe we are a quitter and we don't want to see ourself at a quitter. But we're in a job that we know is not going to work for us or we're in a relationship that's not going to.
Yeah, and identity is complicated. Right. And life is complicated. So it's not as simple as our identity stories are, which tend to be black and white. Like I'm not a quitter and I hate this job.
And I'm not the kind of person who wants to waste their life doing something that they hate.
So now I've got two identities that are in conflict with each other, and I can't figure out how to be the right kind of person, given that I have two values about who I am that are in conflict.
What do we do exactly?
So, I mean, this is this is one of the reasons why it's often the conversation with yourself that you have to have first.
Walk me through that conversation, though.
What does that look like? It's easy to do in the examples.
You give me an example of a difficult conversation that I like. I'm just wondering how do we walk ourselves through identity conflicts or even just like when we have multiple identities?
That's one angle to it. And they're in conflict with each other. And we didn't really realize we had multiple identities and they comply or they're in conflict. But another one is like we just have this.
We've been taught as a kid that we never quit or and now we're doing something that is very clearly something you should quit.
But it is something that we're sort of like we should quit, but that makes us a quitter. And we were being told that we're not quit or don't quit or. Right, exactly.
Well, so one thing to do is to stop holding your identity as either or black or white, because if you think about it logically, you can't go through life never quitting anything because you can't do everything forever all the time.
Right. So you have been quitting things.
So it's shifting that to a quitter as someone who quits because it gets too hard or they're not committed enough or they're not willing to stick it out through the hard parts. Hmm. But a person who makes a good decision for themselves that actually putting more of my energy toward this doesn't make sense.
Hmm. That's actually someone who's making good decisions for themselves. So maybe that's different than being a quitter or a reframing of reframing it.
And realizing actually this is a simplistic story, this quitter story that I have on myself of what I can't be because it's getting in the way of something I need to be also. Let's talk about like work life, work and family conflicts, because on the one hand, I think of myself as someone who's very responsive to clients. But I also think of myself as someone who pays attention to their kids, right? So now I've got a client who, you know, needs help.
They're texting me on the weekend, et cetera, et cetera. I know who you are.
Yeah. And by the way, they're always responsive to me.
And like, can I play at this level if I can't be on and give them the help they need when they need it, if I'm coaching them or helping them through a conflict or whatever it would be, maybe I shouldn't like maybe I'm not cut out for doing this level of work. Right. But in the meantime, my kids are like, Mom, I was talking to you.
Hello. Hello. Right. So I think of myself as a good parent who listens to and is there for their kids.
So now I've got two parts of myself or two stories about who I am that are in conflict.
Well, I'm standing there on the lawn with the phone in my hand. Right. And I'm supposed to be doing something with my kids or I'm on vacation doing email. You know, the whole time all my kids are like, let's go to the ocean. Come on, let's go.
So so part of it is just having the conversation with yourself about how what are the limits to this story I have about who I am or want to be because it's too black and white and how do I be honest with myself that I can't be 100 percent that all the time?
And that's OK. And that's OK. That's actually human.
We sometimes do an exercise where we ask people. Just finished the following sentence, if I know nothing else about myself, I know I am a blank person, so pick a couple of adjectives. What would go in those blanks for you?
Hmm, but not always. I see we're already there already. Yeah. Yeah, exactly.
That somebody off the hook that that was not a comment at all.
Um thoughtful. Yeah. Giving. I mean we tend to think of positive things. Yes. Not negative. Yes.
So I'm guessing those are true generally. Generally you can see the look on your face.
Well and also because if they came to mind quickly, they're important to you. Yeah. Like they're a big piece of who you want to be in the world and what you value. And I also know that they're not always true of you, right as you quickly.
Yeah, of course mentioned it's easy to think of examples where you've not been there's not been those things. And by the way, those can sometimes be your hardest conversations because it's where I'm disappointed in myself. Yeah. Especially maybe for high achievers because we hold ourselves to a really high standard, you know, like I should have known better. I should've seen that coming. I can't believe I did that.
And so whatever those sort of characteristics that you hold most tightly are they are sometimes also a key to the kinds of conversations that are hardest for you, because you let yourself down and you're disappointed in yourself.
And on that note, I know we're running out of time here.
I want to cover two things before we sort of in this conversation. One is like, what are the things that parents should instill in their kids about conversations? Like, what is it you wish all parents knew about having conversations with their kids, not necessarily teaching their kids, but having better, more meaningful conversations used to build and strengthen relationships with your children?
Oh, that's such an important question. So I have teenagers, right? And one of the things that. I've been thinking about a lot in the last few years is what is it that I want my kids to be able to do? I want my kids to be able to see someone else's point of view, even when they feel strongly the other way. I want them to take responsibility and for what they contribute to the problem. Right. To own their part and to apologize and work to fix it.
But also, I want them to stick up for themselves and to speak up for themselves when they. Feel like they're not being treated well. Mm hmm. And so if that's what I want them to learn, they have to have a model for learning that. Right. Which also means I have to be willing for them to speak up to me when they don't feel like I've handled something. Well, they have to see me apologizing to them when I.
Handled something poorly, yal, even though I hate that, and I'm so disappointed in myself when it happened and alive, who hasn't yelled at their.
And, you know, it's like I'm supposed to be good at this. I do this full time and I just really blew it. Right. And so I'm so disappointed in myself, but I need to actually say that out loud to them.
So I have to actually walk the talk and model what I want them to be, which means that I have to apologize to them sometimes, etc.. Right.
And as they get older to shift more responsibility to them and let them make their own mistakes, which is really hard to sit back and watch it make a mistake. Oh, my gosh. But that's OK. But if so, how do you keep and you keep going like.
Hmm. Cliff Yeah that's a good idea. But I mean within the bounds of safety, obviously you just have to walk alongside them. Right?
Usually when I see my kids doing that and they haven't quite caught on yet, I'm like, do you want a recommendation? Yeah.
So I'm like trying not to make a decision for them, but also trying to offer them valuable, also great valuable information.
And just to come back to apologizing to your kids, I think that that is modeling that is super important. I remember the first time I did that, I was like, oh my God, like this.
I was like walking myself through this and like, what am I doing? Right? And I apologize to my kids. And it was like, I'm sorry. Like, I. I responded proportionally to what happened. I lost my patience and lost control of my emotions and reacted in a way that I don't want you to react. Yeah.
And my youngest just put his hand on my shoulder and was like, It's OK, Dad. I bet that he remembers that, too. Yeah, so, yeah, it was a powerful sort of like, but it became easier than it was like so much easier because you're wearing a new groove between like, that's normal.
Yeah. Hopefully doesn't happen too often, but when it does happen, they expect it from you and vice versa. And then we had a conversation about it. Yeah.
What they say, what would be really helpful for us, because I'm like, well, you know, like how do we because I'm super patient and then I'm not. Yeah.
Right. Like super super patient. And then all of a sudden you're really the most patient person in the world. But there's a switch like you cross that switch.
And so now I'm like, we're getting to the line like I feel it right. And like I give them warning, warning.
What you choose to do with this information is up to you.
But that was what they wanted.
They wanted more of like a transition where because they're kids, they want to push their boundaries and they want to push it to the very max and then they'll back off.
So it's like, OK, getting there. And just that information given to them super helpful for them to realize like what's happening because it's not always visible with me.
Yeah, because I am like very patient, but then I'm not patient at all.
Right. And and it's hard for you to actually be self aware as you're approaching that line.
But once you actually get better at it yourself, you can feel it when you notice the feeling that's part of the like pay listen for the emotions in yourself, not just in the other person, too.
The other thing I want to cover quickly, just before we and this is sort of like marriage conversation. Yeah.
Where what are the most common ways that people derail those conversations and what would make the biggest sort of difference, having better again with the goal of understanding and connecting and having a more meaningful relationship with your spouse?
Yeah. Well, have you read any John Gottman yet? A little bit, yeah. Yeah. So I think his research, just for understanding what goes wrong, is really powerful.
Can you explain that just so. Yeah, absolutely. So John Gottman, who's up in Seattle, he's spent his career researching marriage.
He has all these all this data and observations which I think resonate with anyone who's been in a long term partnership or relationship, things like two thirds of the things you're fighting about today, you're going to be fighting about in five years.
And you were fighting about them five years ago. Right.
Those recurring recurring theme issues, because about two thirds of what you fight about are not solvable. They just reflect differences between you.
Right. Who's messier and whose less messy and drives them crazy, who spends the money and who gets anxious and wants to save the money. All of that stuff, those preferences aren't going to change. Those are the friction points between you. It's just how do you handle them? And about a third of the things you're fighting about are transitory. Like we decided to take the job or not move or not. Right. And sometimes it's not over because somebody resents the way the decision was made.
You made me move here. Right? Right. So now that's going to live on at a deeper level in terms of ongoing resentment.
And it's going to rear itself in ways that don't come out as like you made me do this.
It's going to come out as something else. Yeah, exactly. Because you're horrible.
And so it's really hard to get back to the root cause.
Yeah. So so the other thing that he talks about is the fact that he in his research, he invites couples into his love lab and he hooks them up to heart monitors and he videotapes and audiotapes them and then he invites them to talk about an issue that's stressful. So in our language, to have a difficult conversation and his claim to fame is that he can watch a couple for five minutes and predict with 90, what is the two to crazy whether or not they're going to divorce within a year, five years so that it's like uncanny.
Yeah, I haven't volunteered to go to Seattle. I don't know about you.
Oh, but what's interesting is what he's looking for as the clues that he's picking up. And it's things like eye rolling, which is sort of a leaking out of contempt or dismissal. Like I've heard this like a million times. I'm not listening. I'm already formulating my counter argument. Right. So that's an indicia of not actually listening. Right. Or feeling hurt. Right. So we have a no eye rolling rule at our house.
I'd say right here. I saw that. I think you were eye rolling.
They're like, that's because you're being ridiculous. So he's looking for contempt or dismissal. On the positive side, one of the positive corollary or clues that he looks for is as things escalate, that they have an escape hatch, which often involves humor. So it's an affiliation move to reconnect and to break the cycle of escalating conflict. So, you know, it's an old joke or it's something that just gets people out of the escalating.
Frustration to be able to self observe and be like, OK, well, we're having the same argument again and to shift the dynamic.
And so I really think his research is terrific to help us understand the the key places where it's not just that people have difficult conversations in their relationships in important ways. Those conversations are the relationship. And if we handled them well, yeah, the relationship will strengthen and thrive. And if we don't handle them well, the relationship starts to deteriorate.
And so for me, the difficult conversations skills are the prescriptive side of his descriptive research. And I find it fascinating how they how they line up and how much I've learned from his research. That gets me thinking about what are we missing on our side of the fence to understand what helps. So what would those be?
Well, it'd be things like this evening, your contribution, the same thing with listening for the feelings, actually trying to understand the other person's point of view, even though you already know that they're wrong.
Putting aside putting aside. Right. Just let them speak. Exactly. Let them speak.
Try not to roll your eyes or just be transparent about, OK, we've talked about this 100 times. Like, I don't think this is getting anywhere. So what do you want to do? Right. Like, just name it. Yeah. And put it on the table as a joint problem. Like, I don't think we're ever going to agree about this. So now we have to figure out what to do given that right. But then you're into like, OK, now it's a joint problem to solve to see whether we can come up with any options.
Yeah, yeah. And you know, I think part of learning in life is seeing those difficult conversations and those relationships, the strong ones and also the hard ones where there's friction in the relationship in your life, whatever those relationships are, worker or family and friends, and getting curious about what you can learn from them, what you can learn about people and what you can learn about yourself. Right. And to me, that's like a lifelong journey, which is why I just keep learning more every day and wishing I knew it like five years ago because I would've been really helpful.
Yeah, I think that is really interesting because as I observe friends and sort of colleagues and try to ascertain sort of like the health of their relationship with their partners, one of the things that sort of correlates to a negative place is their inability to talk so somebody will bury something that they want to talk about for whatever reason, be it anxiety.
They don't want to talk about their feelings. They don't want to have a recurring conversation that they bury it.
But the more they bury them, though, like the farther apart people get in their relationship. And so they're not coming back and they're not connecting. And the people that had the strongest relationships will bring up stuff that they know is going to be a difficult conversation. But they sort of feel safe that they're going to be understood or listened to and they're going to get to a better place, even though it's going to be a struggle to get there.
Yeah, and your description, I think of the people who feel like I tried to bring it up, it was not well received. I learned it's not worth bringing up. Right. Or I won't get heard or will even get yelled at. They stop speaking to me, whatever. Like, it just escalates and doesn't go anywhere. And so I just have to bury it. And that resentment ends up festering and their relationship is slowly eroding. Right.
The connection that they have is eroding when you feel like you're holding back. But actually you're just building it up. Right, right. You're shoving it under the rug.
And pretty soon your happiness goes out the window. It goes out the window. So there's another this is the connection also to the Gottman work because he talks about positive and negative interactions. Mm. And they're tiny little bits, Mike. Microbeads. Right. So and you can get a positive reaction. It's as simple as, you know, it was cold today and then you actually say, yeah, freezing. But you responded to me in something that heard I felt, heard and acknowledged.
You could also ignore me. I get no response or you could respond negatively like it wasn't that cold, right? You know, you're just a wimp. And so a couple of things. These are like, you know, this research, I find it really interesting. The optimum is, what is it, five to one? I think so, yeah, five to one, positive interactions to negative interactions. And it's not better to have a bigger ratio of positive than negative.
Like ten to one is not better because of what you're describing. If it's ten positive interactions or 50 positive interactions before any negative one, typically one of the partners is holding back and they're not raising things that they should raise to say, like, I was disappointed that you didn't pick that up when you said that you would on the way home.
And so, like five years later, they're more likely to be divorced because they're not actually talking about some things that they need to talk about. Yeah, the other thing I find interesting is a negative response is actually better than no response. I hope because no response just signals that you just don't care, right, you're just totally being ignored. And so it's actually better in the relationship.
If you say it wasn't that cold, you're just a wimp because at least we're still in relationship. Right. And and also people have different models of relationships. So for some people, that friction, like, tells us that you care, right? So there are couples who fight more and fight less. But the fighting more couples aren't necessarily less happy. Depends on how they, quote unquote fight and whether that feels normal to them and connected to them, because it tells me that you care about it.
And I think people also sweep things under the rug because he feels too threatening to bring it up, like it's going to threaten the relationship or they try to bring it up and the other person feels that they are threatening the relationship.
And so they respond by shutting it down, plays on her insecurity, plays on her insecurity.
And then, of course, that's the sad fact is then that actually dooms the relationship because we can't talk about anything.
So this is anybody listening go home tonight, you know, like try to have a difficult conversation, something that's been lingering or ongoing and try to reframe it from a point of understanding and from a point of expressing these feelings and yeah, exploring your identity and what is challenging in that. Yeah.
And if your purpose if you shift your purpose from I need to go home and just get them to see it my way. Right. You want to let them know that they need to change.
Honey, I love you and I would love it if you would you could you just be a different person?
That would be really helpful. And I have some specific requests about what kind of person I would like if I shift my purpose in the conversation from getting them to change or getting them to apologize.
See that I'm right. Whatever to just understanding better what's going on. Like why is it that we have such a hard time with this? That conversation is much more likely to be fruitful because we don't have to agree at the end of it. I just have to go in wanting to learn something about and I have to give up my view to do. I have to pretend I don't have a view.
I'm actually much better saying we really disagree with this and we're stuck. I don't get it. What is so hard? Why is it so important to you drop wanting to resolve it?
Don't even go in with that agenda. Just go in with sort of understanding. Yeah.
Yeah, that's right. And then you're going to have a better conversation. It's going to be lower stakes. Right, because not figuring out a solution isn't failing. Right. And failing is not learning anything new about the other person. That's a great place to live. This was an amazing conversation. Thank you. It was really fun. I really appreciate it. And we'll have to come back for part two and we'll do it on people.
Yes, we'll do it on feedback, which has everything to do with marriage. Marriage is one long feedback conversation. Thank you so much.
Hey, guys, this is Shane again, just a few more things before we wrap up. You can find show notes at Farnam Street blog, dot com slash podcast. That's fair. And S-T REIT blog, dotcom slash podcast. You can also find information there on how to get a transcript.
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