Learning to Reverse Spiraling Conversations

The other morning, I was attempting to get my 5 year old ready for kindergarten. It wasn’t easy. And our communication soon spiraled out of control.

He’s not much of a morning person, and he suffers from an inability to decide what cereal he wants for breakfast.

He was a bit more ornery than usual on this particular morning. I asked him to get dressed and what he wanted for breakfast. He murmured and fussed at me, but never really used words.

So I less gently suggested (you know, firm Dad tones) that he change out of his PJs, get dressed, and tell me what he wanted for breakfast. Various versions of this went on and all of the sudden he was huddled in a fetal position and wouldn’t say anything.

While it wasn’t an adult conversation that spiraled out of control, it was a parent-child conversation that spiraled out of control. No screaming and whatnot, but two people completely missing each other. I desired one thing. He desired another (come to find out he was simply upset about the shirt we picked out for him and couldn’t figure out how to ask for a different one. I blame the whole ‘not a morning person’ thing).

I assumed he was just being stubborn and blocking my attempts at getting everybody ready so I could get them to school.

The morning ended in hugs, by the way, so all is well.

Spiraling Conversations Happen All the Time

Spiraling conversations and spiraling misunderstandings happen all day, everyday.

How often does a coworker falsely assume the worst about another coworker?

I know I, at times, assume the worst about a potential conversation only to realize that it was not nearly as bad as I assumed it would be.

And then there are those times when we really do get in knock down drag outs with a friend, family member, or coworker.

How many of those conversations could be avoided if we paused and sought to understand, listened more, asked a few questions, and gave up our right to be right?

[Tweet “The culture of an organization is built on conversations”]

The culture of an organization ebbs and flows with the quality of its conversation (or so I”m learning while reading John R. Stoker’s new book Overcoming Fake Talk)

Overcoming Fake Talk Spiraling Conversations

One of the biggest enemies is communication that is based on false assumptions and faulty interpretations. We think we know another person’s motivations, but we really don’t. I thought my son was simply annoyed that I was asking him what he wanted for breakfast (maybe I need to grow up a little). But in reality, he was just disappointed because we weren’t letting him wear his new shirt (it was a college football t-shirt that we were holding until Friday –  you know, Spirit Day in SEC country).


Reverse Spiraling Conversations in 5 Easy Steps (if you remember to use them)

We’ll keep this simple without any editorial from me. I recommend Mr. Stoker’s book (I’ll do a full review soon) as a starting point if you find that folks in your neck of the woods struggle with keeping their heads on straight in their dealings with each other:

  1. Ask questions
  2. Listen to what the other person has to say
  3. Share honestly your own perspective
  4. Learn why the other person has his or her perspective
  5. Change – be willing to change

Simple, right?

If we could just learn to ask a few questions and listen, I think we’d go far toward having more powerful and productive conversations.



What do you do to help promote healthy communication in your organization?

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