The Clearing Process
It’s called a Clearing because there is something in me that needs to be said, communicated, requested or resolved that hasn’t been and is getting in the way of my ability to have an effective relationship with you. I literally need to clear it out of the way so we can relate successfully. Besides, there is also the factor that it may just be eating at me, and I don’t want to feel that way anymore.
How many of you have a situation right now with someone in your life? I want you to think about and identify that person in your mind, find some writing materials and write that name down. I encourage each of you to use your own example as we go through this process, to see what using my tool might look like in a real situation. You might even decide at the end of the day to go and try to have that conversation with them, using the tool I bring you today. If half of you do that, then I would have been successful in my reason for being here.
As I discussed in Part One, situations involving difficult conversations usually also involve pretty intense emotion. And my emotions tend to hijack my thinking in those moments – just when I most need to respond in a clear and sane way. I need something simple, step by step, that I can call to mind and quickly and easily put to use. I have crafted such a tool from bits and pieces that I have borrowed from many places; I call it “Five-Step Communication”.
Five Step Communication
Setting up the Conversation
Remember that all of this is about two things, 1) keeping their ears and mind open to taking in information and 2) encouraging them through my behavior to respond in the best possible way. It’s important that the person who is going to listen have the experience of being respected and considered, the opportunity to shift into a ready-to-hear frame of mind and most importantly the ability to give permission – to volunteer, so to speak.
To set it up, go the person and say something like, “there is something going on with me that I really would like to clear up with you because it’s is getting in the way of me having the relationship with you that I would like to have. Are you willing to have this conversation?
Step One – Name the Emotions
We are willing to have the conversation. We have setup a time. We’re sitting down to have the talk. The first thing I recommend doing in a conversation like this is to identify the emotions I have about what we are going to talk about. Why is it helpful to start here? First, getting the emotions out helps them from ruling the situation. Second, in this conversation I want the listener to own what is true about them, so I start out speaking the truth about myself – Leadership Communication (remember Part One?). Finally, it is also something we can’t argue about. I am trying to build up agreement; there is no arguing about what emotions I am feeling. Lastly, telling you what I am feeling thus is opening up a little bit; it’s the start of personal connection. Every step of the way in this process, we are trying to create it that the interaction is a little safer and stronger to support the increasing level of intensity at the next step in the conversation – emotions first.
I want you think about the person you wrote on the paper and the situation you had with them. Write down one or two words for what emotions you have about that situation. Mad, sad, scared, happy, guilty, confused.
Step Two – State the Data
Now we want to share the information that anybody looking at the situation would be able to see, what was said or done at what place and time about what – the data, the facts, just the facts. I am doing this at this point to make sure we are on the same page. Quite a number of difficult conversations arise because people are missing a piece of data or looking at things from different angles, seeing them differently. So they are arguing about something that doesn’t actually exist as a problem, rather as a mis-perception. Stating the data is a chance to surface this, and the conflict may just go away. It would be great to resolve the thing at this earlier stage, if possible, before we go on to where the heat is.
Take a minute and write down the facts about the situation that you want to talk to your person about. What happened, what did you hear them say, who was involved?
Step Three – Share the Judgments
This is a critical step in many ways. As soon as most of us hear the word “judgment”, we automatically think that is a bad thing. “You shouldn’t have judgments. If you are judging me, you are doing something negative.” We have heard statements like these all our lives. In some cases that may be true, because judgment is certainly and often done poorly and communicated even more so. But the fact is, we judge all the time, we can’t help it. It’s what defines us and distinguishes us from critters. Human beings are judging animals. I look at what I perceive and think about whether it is for me or against me, better or worse than an alternative. I have to make those decisions to live. More neutral language might be, “What meaning am I attaching to that data? What are the stories I am telling myself about you, me and this situation?
I am always judging, but the fact is I don’t often admit to myself or other people what those judgments are. I keep them inside. I let them affect how I see things and how I interact. Here we are operating at a higher level of communication, so we face and speak the things that have impact. Those opinions and evaluations are the reasons I am having a problem here. The interpretations I have are why that data gives me those emotions.
So in this step, I state as honestly and cleanly as I can what are my relevant judgments – about myself, about you and about the situation that is setting the context for the issue of the clearing. When I avoid having a difficult conversation or sharing my opinion about something that has happened or something the listener has done, I am in reality harming them as well as myself. On the other hand, I can let them hear the consequences of their actions or words on me.
In our lives we frequently let each other off the hook instead of confronting in a constructive way. So a lot of times, we don’t even realize where our behaviors and words impact other people, until someone finally is cries “ouch.” But by that time, there is already harm done again, and no telling what casualties and collateral damage I have left in my wake where no one spoke out. All of my actions and choices have an impact on the people around me and I am responsible for those impacts if I want to have effective relationships with that person.
Now consider and write down your judgments about the person you want to confront, yourself in the matter and the situation involved.
Step 4 – Own My Part
This is often the most important part of the entire process – pivotal to a positive outcome. What is my contribution to this situation and what part of my reaction is from things about me that have nothing to do with you in this present moment and this current situation. All of what has been shared notwithstanding – my emotions, the data, all my judgments about you and the situation – there is always at least some small thing I could have done or not done or done differently that contributed to the situation turning out that way. Often there is also something in me or my past that is causing me to over or mis-react – emotions excessive to some extent or judgments skewed in some way. There is always “my part”.
This is so important; I go through life reacting to people all of the time in out-of-balance ways because of “my stuff”. So not only do I unload on those people in ways they don’t deserve and harm the relationship, but I also miss the opportunity to learn some things about myself that could help me grow and change. One of the big gifts of you pissing me off is that I get to say to myself, “You know what, why I am feeling so much energy about this? What is it about me that I need to notice here, so that I walk away from this having learned something about me that will help me become a stronger person living life better?
All that said, the main purpose in our conversation is to lead the way, by example, for the listener to own responsibility for their part. All these other things are fringe benefits – icing on the cake, great icing. But once again, in Leadership Communication, what we are really up to is 1) keeping their ears open so they hear what I am saying. 2) encouraging them to respond in a good way because of the way I am communicating and being with them.
Now think of one or two parts you played, in your situation. It may be hard, and the more upset you are with that person or the more inappropriate was their behavior, the more difficult it will be to do this – and the more important it will be to do this. You may need some feedback and support from someone you trust who is objective about it.
Step 5 – Make Commitments and Requests for Change
Here is where it all gets tied up nicely. From my perspective as a coach – getting something done – I am interested in action and change and results. So we have set up this conversation, named the emotions, stated the data, shared the judgments and owned the part I played in the situation. Now, we take a look at how things might be different going forward; what are the commitments and requests for change? You may have noticed which one came first? Why? Leadership communication; I am leading the way; I am making a commitment to change first, hoping that will open your willingness to join me in committing to change something.
By the time we have had that conversation and agreed to fairly reasonable commitments and requests, most likely we are now having the collaborative discussion about how to make the situation better. I find it valuable at this point – especially as an employer or spouse or in similar ongoing important relationships – to set a time to come back together again (typically a week to a month) to talk about how it has been going – from each of our perspectives. Then there is the chance to have that accountability: Did we do what we said we would, how has that been working for each of us and what’s next?
You know what comes next. Pull out that paper and jot down, in light of everything else you have written, at least one commitment to change that you are willing to make and one request of them for change that you think important to you. Get some support if you need to, set up some accountability; but stretch yourself to go and have that conversation with your person. What’s at risk that could possibly happen if you do it (other than some discomfort, which is the price of all change), that is worse than the certainty that the current state of affairs will remain the same – or worsen over time if left unresolved?
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