Side-by-Side Conversations are More Productive

When the heat turns up in our conversations the tendency is to dig in our heels and expect others to adapt to our needs. It can be difficult to modify our natural preferences and engage in dialogue that brings out the best in ourselves and others, especially when we feel “time is of the essence”.

When conversations become narrowly focused on moving others toward a predetermined goal, vital information can be missed and emotional hotspots triggered. The tendency toward a one-sided “efficient” conversation creates a disconnect that results in a lower likelihood of fruitful dialogue. Simply stated, partnering conversations are more productive.

After a recent communication training, I was grateful to hear how much the team had learned about themselves. Yet, two very different leaders, one a problem solver and the other a strategic thinker, both reflected on how it was difficult to actually engage in productive dialogue. While gaining understanding of individual differences did elicit more grace, the frustration of the other person “missing the point” and not truly connecting remained. 

As I talked with them further, I had an “ah-ha” moment. Both increased their understanding of self, but they remained focused on helping the other person “get them” rather than engaging an others-awareness approach. Intentions are good! We want others to understand where we are coming from. However, truly fruitful dialogue requires more. We need to partner others-awareness with our self-awareness to create side-by-side conversations. 

Not every conversation is a side-by-side conversation. However, when we seek to have significant conversations and they are characterized by unmet expectations, misunderstandings, or conflicting purposes we need to hit the pause button and engage BOTH self-awareness and others-awareness.

(1) Self-Awareness:

Notice about what you need in the conversation and how you want to represent yourself and your intention well. Know your emotional hot-spots and what can get under your skin and be prepared for how you want to handle these triggers to be true to yourself and demonstrate honor and respect for others.  

Too often we stop there. Stick with me. Take 5 minutes more and think about this …

(2) Others-Awareness:

Engage curiosity rather than self-judgment as you reflect on how others tend to react to you and what historically have been hiccups in your communication. Notice how your style might have contributed to that and what you might want to do differently. Observe ways others tend to approach communication. Do they focus on details? Do they jump to the future? Do they tend to map out the steps? Do they have lots of ideas? Do they share facts or feelings? It’s your clue about what they might need. Think about one thing you could do to meet them where they are at to engage in more productive dialogue.

Productive dialogue can still be elusive as you engage new awareness and experiment with new behaviors. Even so, when self-awareness and others-awareness are engaged side by side we work better together.

Next Steps

Faced with a significant conversation this week? Ask yourself these three pairs of questions that promote both self awareness and others awareness:

  1. What is your key motivation in the conversation? What questions might you ask to uncover what the other person needs?
  2. What is your purpose in the conversation? What assumptions are you making that you might need to clarify?
  3. How do you want to reflect your best self in the conversation? What approach to the conversation will address their needs as you understand them right now?

Side by side conversations are not about winning or coming out better — but coming out together. Interested in hearing more? Check out this week’s Side by Side Podcast episode on Myers Briggs Type Indicator and Teams that Thrive (on Apple or Spotify, too). 

What impact have you witnessed when conversations are productive and positive? Comment below >> I love a little testimony time!

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Annie Perdue Olson

Annie is founder of Leading Better Together, guiding leaders through the relationship and people challenges that sidetrack ministry. With 20+ years of experience in nonprofit management and pastoral ministry she equips people and teams to work better together. She holds a Master of Arts in Human Resources and Change Leadership from St. Thomas University and received her coaching certification from the Center for Coaching Excellence.

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