The Flow of Talk: Connect
In this article and the next I am completing the “three process” model that explains how and why we talk the way we do. As I pointed out in a previous article, when our Elephant mind instantly reads situational cues that potentially represent openness and warmth, it automatically prompts our Rider to generate the appropriate courtesy rituals to start the flow of Connect talk. As the other collaborates, the emotions of trust emerge between us.
Also, in everyday Connect talk when we exchange stories, we speak plausibly not accurately because the Rider thinks too slowly to carry on a fluent conversation. What we say may not be “right” in any objective sense, but it “feels right” to us – and our listener – when we say it, because it maintains the flow of conversation. Daniel Kahneman calls this the “affective” heuristic – a thinking shortcut provided by the Elephant to the Rider to carry normal talk forward. As he notes, we may not be able to quickly articulate what we think about something but we can always say what we feel about something, and frame it as a thought.
The Other Flow: Control
In another article on the second process, I described the second automatic flow of talk that emerges when our Elephant anticipates a threat to our sense of being as valuable, competent and influential – of being “right!” Threats to our sense of “rightness” happens when:
(1) Differences occur between what we expected people to do or say and what they actually did or said – momentary disruptions to our sense of rightness or,
(2) Disagreements occur about how we, and they, see common problems and what should be done about them – more persistent challenges to our sense of what’s right – and finally when
(3) Disorder occurs. That is, when the processes we oversee or the situation we’re in simply falls apart – a complete disruption of our sense of what’s right.
When facing uncertainty about, or a direct threat to, our sense of self or our sense of how a situation should work, we use Defensive Control talk. It begins with a critical judgment – “you are wrong” and flows naturally to publically laying blame.
In reality, we speak to control the thoughts and actions of others by speaking in sweeping generalities and accusatory judgments that are not directly connected to the actual situation we are in. We do this to get what we want but most importantly to lay blame and make the other wrong, so we can feel right.
We automatically make it personal.
C. Critical Judgment “You are wrong” so I
O. Offer intense arguments to
N. Negotiate a change in you, so, I can be right and get you to think my way. If you don’t change, I simply
T. Try again. Any continued resistance induces
R. Righteous Anger in my Elephant to the level of an emotional hi-jack. I
O. Openly attack you as a person as I
L. Lay blame on you for the situation
Defensive Control is the most dangerous form of talk and sadly it “naturally” flows from the structure our mind and the structure of many situations we have to deal with. Our Rider mind is always seeking the positive answers to the question, “How am I being treated here?” and 3 D situations automatically generate threats. They fire up the Elephant’s automatic talk for self-protection and we feel compelled to make other people wrong so we can maintain the illusion of our own “rightness.”
Consider this the Donald Trump version of your Elephant mind: charging into a situation and speaking as if you know the truth about what’s really going on.
Of course, if we do a “Donald Trump” this form of automatic talk could go very badly because the person we’re attacking will automatically defend themselves.
The fear-threat emotions we feel will be real not feigned and may become so overwhelming we could have an “emotional hi-jack” that would turn our arguments into purely personal attacks to get them to shut up, give up and take the blame for the situation. Of course, this is disastrous for effective relationships. There is a better way to deal with difficult situations.
Get Out of Flow – Mindful Dialogue
The better way is called Mindful Dialogue. And unlike Connect and Control talk it is not a product of the Elephant mind but of the Rider mind. It does not flow automatically, that is you don’t start at the top of the model and as the next element automatically comes to mind, it comes out of your mouth. In fact, as you’ll see, Mindful Dialogue requires that you start at the bottom of the element list where you need to rediscover the power of your conscious Rider mind before you speak.
Mindful Management: The Essentials
In everyday talk, speed connects and speed kills. The speed with which our Elephant mind can read other people and produce images and words in nonthreatening situations – allowing us to speak fluently and connect – is the same speed that kills our connection in situations that our Elephant decides are threatening. We need to slow down. Below you have three pairs of speech elements that cannot be believably reproduced in a quick, automatic fashion. You must start at the bottom of the model before you can effectively use it. The mantra of Mindful Dialogue is last things first!
D. Descriptive Language – Use facts and/or data and make few assumptions
I. Messages – Frame your descriptions in the present. Say, I see, I feel, I need, I think…
A. Ask Appreciative Questions – First ask the 4W2H questions, but not why
L. Listen Actively – Give the other your undivided attention and understanding feedback
O. Open Acknowledgement – Say what you see in the situation, the other, yourself
G. Genuine Support – Offer appreciation, compliments, recognition
Built on this base
U. Understanding First – Ask before telling, Seek information
E. Emotional Self-Management – Calm, breath, Adult voice
Create a Mindful Moment
Use the Conscious Calming Breath (described in my blog post) before a difficult conversation. Find a moment of privacy – bathroom stalls work great – to breathe.
Seek Understanding First: Talk To Yourself
While taking a conscious calming breath, get your Rider on top by silently asking yourself questions about the situation – and answering them. Ask yourself: “I wonder what’s really going on here?” Notice the present emphasis in, “here” and the trick built into the “I wonder … really” form. The Rider mind seems compelled to answer this type of question. It may say, “I don’t know, but they look mad.” Whatever it describes, this simple internal dialogue keeps the Rider’s attention involved in the moment.
Keep Talking To Yourself: The Rider Calms The Elephant
Now that you have the Rider involved keep it talking. Lengthen your next outbreath and say to yourself, “They may be coming ‘at me,’ but their words and feelings are ‘about them.’ I don’t need to agree or disagree, I just need to understand.”
Changing your view of a low-level threat to a learning moment reduces its power. Many great leaders and thinkers throughout history have commented on the positive power of reappraisal. One of the most famous quotes is: “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”
Next name your feelings to yourself. This act of “affect labeling” is the most powerful way for you to get control of your emotions. Silently say, “This is really pissing me off or scaring me.” Although most people naturally think that saying the words makes your feelings more intense, research data shows that it does just the opposite. By turning our feelings into thoughts we calm our amygdala so that it stops pushing your body’s self-regulation system into flight-fight mode.
Calming yourself and focussing on the present changes the sound of your voice to the well-modulated, pleasantly anticipatory sound of the problem-solver. Now you are prepared to use Mindful Dialogue. In my next article, I will explain how.