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  • Ruth Schocken Katz

Coaching Snippet: On Messy Conversations



We all experience situations of conflict or disagreement, where we often try hard to be accurate and clear, only to discover that we are still misunderstood and misinterpreted.

We simply don’t always know how to say things or even what to say.

In my work, I often see people’s tendency to communicate ‘bottom lines’ and treat words as a ‘shop window’ - a representation of ourselves. However, seeing our words as that means that they have to be polished, exact, clear, and true, which isn’t always the case.

Avoiding ‘mistakes’ in conversations, means that we are not taking the risk of being wrong. But taking the risk, and being allowed to be wrong, give us the time and space to clarify our thoughts, and be more accurate, honest, forgiving and trusting. Being clearer, more trusting and forgiving, ultimately can help us step out of a pattern of miscommunication and anger.



INT. DAY. OFFICE.


John and I have been talking about the cyclical pattern of his family’s domestic fighting where everyone is pulled, like in a centrifuge, to well-established roles and behaviours. We were thinking of ways to break the cycle and step out of the spin by avoiding blame and instead focusing on statements about “how I feel” instead of “you do this!”


JOHN

Sometimes a feeling isn’t reasonable.

ME

What do you mean?


JOHN

Sometimes I can feel something that isn’t called for by the situation, and then what’s the point in mentioning it?


ME

Well, let’s try. Let’s say that I feel hurt by something you said, and I say “I feel you are not taking me seriously.” What would you say?


JOHN thinks for a while.


JOHN

I guess the first thing I would say is ‘sorry’, because I didn’t intend for you to feel like that.


ME

And then what?


Again JOHN thinks quietly.


JOHN

I would probably try to explain what I meant by what I said, which led you to feel something I didn’t intend.


ME

So you would refine your words, your ideas?


JOHN

Yes.

ME

So to summarise this exchange just now, expressing some ‘unreasonable’ feelings, which may very well have been ‘wrong,’ led you to refine your words and your ideas so that you could explain yourself better after you’ve apologised.


JOHN

Yes. I think I see where you’re heading.

ME

Where am I heading?


JOHN

It’s sort of a positive result. It made things clearer.


ME

Yes. It enables effective communication.


JOHN

Yes.

ME

So let me ask you this: what do you think makes a feeling “unreasonable”?

JOHN

Well, it’s when it is exaggerated, or not called for, or irrelevant to the issue at hand.


ME

But as you can see, even if you judge it to be so, it can still help bridge a gap between two people.


JOHN

I guess.


ME

Why do you think that is?


JOHN thinks for a while again.


JOHN

I am not sure.


ME

So let me suggest to you that it does so because it still reflects a truth about the other person. It reflects THE other person. Which then makes it not “unreasonable.” It reflects the truth as the other person sees it, which is a truth, even if you disagree with it or if it is not your truth.

JOHN

Yes.


He is thinking quietly. Then continues:


JOHN

That means that there is no unreasonable feeling.

ME

Indeed. This is why it is a good foundation for being clear when you find yourself in conflict. Because feelings are subjective and a reflection of how things feel to you at this moment.

JOHN

I get it now. But I want to add that feelings need to be expressed truthfully. As in, don’t say you feel something just for the sake of argument.


ME

Feelings must be expressed authentically and responsibly. And that probably calls for a degree of trust. And I would suggest that not blaming another, or yourself for having ‘unreasonable’ feelings, would help build trust.


JOHN

Yes. That makes sense.


*names and places have been changed to honour privacy


Illustration by Evie Fridel


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