From Mired to Inspired: Breaking Free of a Conversational Quagmire

Think about someone you lead who you don’t see eye-to-eye with. Do you seem to be having the same tired old conversation again and again? Do you think that if you could just somehow make your point in a way that’s more appealing, then surely this person will see your point of view? 

I’m reminded of something Al Switzler, co-author of the books Crucial Conversations and Influencer said during a webinar: “If your response to frustrating conversations is to increase the frequency of your key point or the volume of your delivery, but you don’t change the content of your message, then you will remain stuck in your current situation.”

Are you entrenched in a conversational quagmire?

Stuck indeed. In fact, I’d bet that each time you repeat this conversation, each of you gets more entrenched in your original position. This is especially true if you have expertise on the topic being discussed– it’s called “cognitive entrenchment.” It’s like being stuck in the mud— trying harder to release yourself from the muck only sinks you deeper into the quagmire. It’s human nature. We hold on to our convictions—long past the time they are reasonable and even when factual information bears out our misguided thinking. 

You can’t make inroads with the same argument that they’ve been consistently resisting over time. You need to try a different conversational approach. You might be thinking you can outlast them, or “wear them down,” which may be true – but beware: some people are very stubborn. They may take it as their personal mission to outlast you. If you were the kid (or the parent) in a showdown of “sit at the table until you eat your peas” you’ll know what I mean. And even if you outlast them, the win is a small one because any short-term gain is negated by the tension and wasted energy of trying to “convince” someone of your point.

What to say to get a conversation “unstuck”

When you find yourself mired in the same conversational pattern, try these questions to help get the conversation unstuck:

  1. What has to happen in order for you to feel comfortable considering what I’m asking for?
  2. What is it about my suggestion that seems unreasonable to you? How can we modify it to make it more palatable to you?
  3. In what areas of this discussion do we agree?
  4. What is your main concern about [topic being discussed]? If we could successfully address that concern, how likely would you be to move forward with this?
  5. Here is where I see our commonalities [list them]. Here is where I see our differences on this topic [list them]. What can we do to bridge these differences?
  6. Let’s list the pros and cons of our respective viewpoints and see if we can draw out the commonalities.
  7. I’m not sure I understand what you mean. Would you please say that in a different way?

You’ll notice that all of these phrases are very open-ended. They invite conversation. Keep in mind that the goal of asking these questions is to understand the other person’s viewpoint, not to “sell” them on your viewpoint. If you return to persuading, then you’ve tossed yourself right back in the mud.

Getting a follower on board with your idea (or company policy, department paperwork, etc.) can be a lengthy process. Any response on your part that smacks of “because I said so” will only set you further back on the path. The next time you find yourself in a conversation that sounds oh-so-familiar, break out of the pattern and try a different conversational approach. You may just find yourself unstuck in no time. Or at the very least, out of the interpersonal “mud” and onto a path of discussion and understanding.

Discussion question: what are some of your favorite phrases for getting people conversationally “unstuck”?

 Updated: 2023

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The post From Mired to Inspired: Breaking Free of a Conversational Quagmire appeared first on People Equation.

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