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Creating Safety, Managing Your Inner Dialogue During Crucial Conversations
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Creating Safety, Managing Your Inner Dialogue During Crucial Conversations

By Kathryn Dillon

I will never forget a comment from a client the day we delivered and installed drapery, shades, bedding, bed skirts and pillows for several rooms in her home. When we arrived, she said she could hardly sleep the night before because she was giddy with excitement. She said she felt like it was Christmas for her home.

However, before the drapes are fabricated or the mood board is presented to the client, there are numerous supporting tasks to be coordinated and completed. Our clients place a lot of trust in our ability to create and deliver quality products while, many times, helping them discover exactly what design style they prefer. As a business owner, having excellent communication skills is one of the keys to ensuring a positive and memorable experience for yourself as well as your client and team.

Even though we want every client to have a Christmas-morning experience, unfortunately, at times, this does not happen and how we respond is crucial. When conversations matter the most, many times we are caught by surprise and respond emotionally rather than effectively. Our adrenal glands kick in, activating the “fight or flight” reflex, and we naturally say or do things we would never say or do under normal circumstances.

In “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes Are High,” authors Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler define a crucial conversation as “a discussion between two or more people where the stakes are high, opinions vary and emotions run strong.” In stressful situations, we naturally tend to either withdraw and become quiet or become controlling and aggressive. 

The book discusses several different strategies for how to effectively communicate during these types of surprising and stressful situations. For the sake of brevity, I am going to discuss two of them: the need to create an atmosphere for safe, open communication and the need to manage our own internal dialogue.

Creating Safety

One of the most important foundations in creating safety is to assume both parties are working toward a common outcome in the conversation and care about the goals of the other party, not just their own. It is a good practice to examine your own motives by asking these questions honestly:

  • What do I want for me? 
  • What do I want for the others involved?
  • What do I want for the relationship?

Another key factor for creating safety is making sure the interactions remain respectful. When either party feels disrespected, the conversation will immediately change from its original purpose to defending dignity. A telltale sign that someone feels disrespected is their emotions turn from fear to anger.

To counteract these feelings, look for ways to empathize with the other person. Take a moment to see their perspective and acknowledge their disappointment. Apologize for what you can and then work toward a solution that works for both parties.

Master Your Internal Dialogue

Remember the definition of a crucial conversation is “a discussion between two or more people where the stakes are high, opinions vary and emotions run strong.”An exchange occurs, we tell ourselves a story about that exchange and then we have an emotional response. This storytelling can occur in a split second before we realize the story has been told and we are dealing with the emotional response and exchange.

What exactly is a story or inner dialogue? A story is the intermediate step just after we observe what someone else has said or done where we add meaning and we assign a motive to the action. We also add judgment. Is it good or bad? Fair or unfair? Then, based on these rapid thoughts and decisions, our emotions respond accordingly.

The wonderful thing is since we are in control of our internal dialogue and are the only ones telling our story, we can take back control of our emotions by changing our internal dialogue.

Stories help us to interpret the facts and explain what we see and hear. They are theories that answer the who, what and how questions we ask when an interaction goes south. By slowing down and doing a bit of mental gymnastics, we can stop what we are doing and get in touch with the drivers behind our responses. Again, stop to ask yourself these three questions:

  • What do I want for me? 
  • What do I want for the others involved?
  • What do I want for the relationship?

In order to meet the demands of clients in a creative industry, learning to dialogue well under stress is important to having a successful business and personal life. Oftentimes, if we take the time to retrace troubling interactions, we will learn where the discussion went awry. It is worth it when we find a way to create an atmosphere of safety and learn to change our internal dialogue, because then we can do well in crucial conversations. 

Kathryn Dillon owns and operates Kathryn Dillon Drapery & Design, LLC, a full-service window treatment and soft goods design and fabrication business based in Marietta, GA. Over the past 24 years, she has created lasting relationships with repeat clients and those that value attention to detail throughout the design and fabrication process. In addition, she travels to other workrooms to provide an extra set of hands or creates customized education to workrooms to fill a knowledge gap. Kathryn has been a local and national WCAA member since 2005 and she currently serves as the WCAA Virtual Chapter President.

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