BOOK REVIEW: VITAL CONVERSATIONS

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This week I would like to promote a brilliant book called ‘Vital Conversations’ by Alex Grimsley. I would definitely recommend it for anyone who finds themselves having to resolve a work or relationship issue and not really having the confidence or experience of conducting the conversation in a way that facilitates the most positive resolution to both parties.

I personally leapt on this book, because in the past, my social anxiety has made confrontation with people very difficult, literally physically disabling my ability to speak in an assertive voice and coherent sentences. To avoid the shame of this, I found myself avoiding those situations and then guiltily allowing a negative relationship or work situation to continue.

The book provides a practical approach for identifying, preparing and engaging in those difficult conversations. I like that it covers a broad range of scenarios, including those where it may not be possible for the conversations to have a positive outcome (i.e. having to make someone redundant or breaking up with someone).

The author really captures the feelings those of us go through when having to talk about a sensitive issue and breaks down how our own assumptions, perceptions and ego play key roles in each stage of the conversation which can make all the difference to the outcome.

It starts by talking about the three generations of consciousness that people can operate from when having a difficult conversation:

  • First Generation: Fight or flight

  • Second Generation: Manipulation or control

  • Third Generation: Mutual understanding and compassion

Guess which generation we should aspire to operate from?

I like the way the book was not afraid to go deep, by confronting the anxiety problem and it’s detriment to a difficult conversation, by providing practical advice on maintaining focus and control through the long-term practice of breathing techniques. This is something I already do through meditation, to help with my anxiety, and I can say that it really helps.

I read this book very eagerly because at the time there was a difficult conversation coming up at work with an individual, and I really wanted to try out some of the techniques.

As the book recommends, you should make the person aware that you want to have the conversation in advance by preparing a clear, assertive and structured 90-second explanation to them about why you want to have the conversation. Knowing that my anxiety would hinder my delivery of this, I literally practiced saying the words at home a number of times so that when it came to the moment my lines would be correct (I used to be an actor after all!). And yes, the anxiety did hit hard. My voice was shaky and weak, but because of the preparation I was able to get through it and say exactly what I wanted and the person responded very positively. Phew! Step one over with.

When it came to the actual conversation, because of the success of the initial explanation there was a noticeable positivity to the beginning of the conversation because the person knew exactly why we were having it.

Again, I repeated the initial explanation (which was so much easier this time) and then it was a case of explaining my perceptions of the situation and its impact on my feelings, and then inviting the person to provide their perceptions and feelings. There was more that took place in the conversation than this blog allows to explain, but essentially, through maintaining the third generation thinking of mutual understanding and compassion, preparing the structure of the conversation and how to respond constructively throughout the stages, the outcome was extremely positive. It resulted in a deeper understanding of our psychological needs that improved our working relationship in the longer term.

This was very inspiring. I was so happy to finally have a book like this my bookshelf. It is very reassuring that when I need to conduct difficult conversations, then I can grab it and revise the techniques.

As I coach, I will have clients who’s issues are the result of not having the confidence to conduct difficult conversations. What the coach can do is help the client practice those techniques and even role-play having the conversation in advance where the coach reacts differently, so that the client is prepared for different responses.

If you are having difficulty in your work or personal relationships and need to let those people know that it just isn’t working for you, then I would recommend this book, or better yet, why not sign up to some coaching sessions so we can examine the situation holistically so that lack of confidence doesn’t hinder you ever again.

Take care,
Oliver

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