Conversation Resuscitation

Have you ever unintentionally offended anyone? Have people ever misunderstood you? Have you ever felt like you’re forcing the conversation? All three problems have the same solution–conversational preventative resuscitation (CPR).

A couple weeks ago, I was chatting with someone about the news and I made a comment like:

You shouldn’t give racists that much attention

The person I was chatting with immediately responded by criticizing my remark, and to prove how offended he was, he kept adding to the response, defending himself, insulting my stance, and insinuating that I was the one that didn’t get it.

After a barrage of counter punches I finally got a chance to clarify. It was really just a simple misunderstanding.

The person I was talking with thought I meant “You (the person I’m talking to) shouldn’t (personally) give racists attention.” Of course that would be quite offensive if somebody insinuated that you were helping racists!

108491What I meant was “You (people in general) shouldn’t give racists attention.”

It’s one of those things in English where the word “you” can refer to everybody. “You should brush your teeth. You need to bathe every day. You can’t bite off more than you can chew!” It’s very offensive if you take it personally.

It’s very easy to offend people.
It’s very easy to be misunderstood.
It’s very easy to lose that rapport.

When it happens, we find ourselves drowning in a forced conversation and flailing in any attempt to reach a conversation preserver that will reconnect us with the listener.

All three problems can be solved with one solution. Or better said, all three problems can be prevented with one solution!

The Art of Conversation

Most people hire me to coach them on public speaking skills. My workshops focus on group communication. However, I also get quite a few phone calls from people that feel awkward in one-on-one conversations and would like to improve their interpersonal communication skills.

What is not commonly understood is that there is really not much difference. A good public speaker treats the presentation like a conversation. The principles in my SpeechDeck communication system apply in both situations.

conversation-1262311_960_720It’s not the speaker that is limited by a larger group, it’s the audience. Obviously, every member of a 200 person audience cannot respond personally to one presenter, but that doesn’t stop the speaker from treating it like a conversation.

Regardless of the size of the group, 200-to-1 or 1-to-1, the more it feels like a conversation and the more personal it feels, the better your results will be.

Conversational Preventative Resuscitation

The easiest way to transform boring, ambiguous, impersonal speaking into a conversation is by making it personal. For example, you can say:

I wish you would go home early.

OR you can say

I want to wrap your birthday present, I wish you would go home early.

Prefacing your point with your MOTIVATION clarifies the meaning of your point. One sentence is offensive; one is not.

Clearly I am using an extreme example to make a point. Here are some less manipulative motivations.

I’m feeling sick, I wish you would go home.

I have an appointment, I wish you would go home.

I need some alone time, I wish you would go home.

Can they be offensive? Yes, but they won’t be. All you need to do to avoid the misunderstanding is clarify your motivation. Of course, if you really do want to offend someone, clarifying your motivation will help with that too:

I can’t stand to look at your ugly face, I wish you would go home.

The point is that including your motivation makes everything more clear.

questions-1328465_960_720Everybody knows WHAT they want to say. You know WHAT you want the other person to do. We all say WHAT we think makes sense. All I’m asking you to change is to add one sentence before the WHAT that explains the WHY.

Let’s use a few of the principles from the SpeechDeck communication system to explain how this works:

The WHY Primes the Subconscious

One of the principles of great communication is to make sure you are “engaging the subconscious” of the listener and not just their conscious mind.

Verbally, a great way to prime the listener is to preface a remark with context. Context directs the listener’s interpretation and makes it harder to misunderstand.

Brain_powerYou can prime the listener with pictures, words, stories, memories, or almost anything that is related to the WHAT. Of all the possible primes, using your WHY (motivation) is one of the most effective.

If you don’t reveal your motivation, the listener has the option of ascribing any motivation they want, good or bad. On the other hand, when you lead (prime) with your motivation, you narrow the options so that they are more likely to understand as you intend.

The WHY builds Authenticity

Second, sharing your WHY uses the principle of “Revealing the Messenger.”

By revealing your motivation you are sharing something internal and personal–you are sharing something that you don’t HAVE TO share. By letting the listener peer into your internal thoughts and feelings, you appear much more authentic and credible.

stamp-924567_960_720It’s easy not to trust a robotic, impersonal, caricature of a person that you don’t know. Emotions and motivations turn that cardboard cutout into a real person.

I respect lots of people I disagree with, but it’s impossible to respect those I don’t even know. Motivations are how we get to know you.

CPR is for real people. Nobody wants to rescue the cardboard cutout from drowning. Everybody want to rescue a real person, even a person they disagree with.

The WHY builds Rapport

Lastly, your WHY taps into the principle of “Developing Relationships.” You only drown in an awkward moment when you don’t already have a strong relationship.

When you fumble your words in front of a stranger you cower in embarrassment and it stifles the conversation. When you fumble your words in front of a friend you both laugh and move on. The difference is the pre-existing rapport.

If you only say the WHAT, you’ll very often be divisive, thus breaking rapport:

I want you to buy my product

Pretty much any request you make, whether it’s trying to make a sale or asking someone to change their mind, or even just teaching is creating division.

WHATever your are saying is probably something new or different or a change for the listener. Unless the listener already agrees with your WHAT, saying it is pointing out a difference you have with the other. Rapport requires you point out similarities.

standoutBy sharing your motivation, you bring up similarity, because almost every human being can relate to almost every motivation. Motivations are emotional and every human being has experienced every emotion.

In my example above, everybody, knows what its like to give a present, feel sick, have an interview, need time alone, etc. Even the most transparent motivation is something other people can relate to:

I really need to make enough commission to pay my mortgage, please buy my product.

I know, that sounds a little like a guilt trip. There may be better alternatives than the example above, BUT we all (with few exceptions) know what it’s like to have bills, and we can build rapport around that similarity. Any positive motivation is better than no motivation.

Motivations are something you have (or have had at some point) in common with the listener, and therefore, stating your motivation builds rapport.

Start with WHY

I must admit, while I was developing my presentation skills system I used to always ask my clients to talk about “motivations.”

I changed my terminology when I read Simon Sinek’s book “Start with Why.” Since reading his book on the subject I now encourage clients to share the “why.” It’s a broader, better word.

If you’d like some great real-world examples, grab a copy of his book or check out some of his videos online. To paraphrase Mr. Sinek:

If they don’t know your WHY,
they will misunderstand your WHAT.

That’s CPR. That’s how you resuscitate a conversation preventatively: “Start with WHY.”


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