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How to have better conversations

Who hasn’t walked away from a conversation thinking, how did that go so wrong?

by Elizabeth Heathcote

how to have better conversations

In his book Blamestorming, writer and coach Rob Kendall tackles classic conversational cul-de-sacs:

  • The Tangle, where crossed wires lead to confusion
  • The Big Argument, where a c turns into a row
  • The Bad Place, where one gets mired
  • The Lock Down, where feelings are withheld, negative conclusions drawn and talking stops.

These are the warning signs to look for, says Kendall…

  • Blamestorming: when the conversation turns into criticism. Are you sounding self-righteous? Look out for language like ‘you always’.
  • Dominatricks: someone tries to dominate the conversation. Are you finishing each other’s sentences and not allowing for other opinions? Does the conversation feel competitive?
  • Mixed messages: one of you makes wrong assumptions and draws inaccurate conclusions.

Steps to avoid a row:

  • Recognise you have a choice at each point in a conversation. Generally, a chat escalates when you defend a perceived attack (‘but you…’).
  • If someone has an issue, listen without interrupting until they have finished, even if you disagree, and even if it takes some time.
  • Acknowledge the other person’s feelings, empathise.
  • If you feel puzzled by the direction a conversation is taking, try to summarise it, to make sure everyone’s understanding is the same.

Have a great conversation:

  • Really listen, don’t just prepare to speak.
  • Decide what your commitment is in the conversation, for example, to have an open and honest relationship. Notice your thoughts and feelings as it goes along, but base what you are saying on values instead.
  • Stop fixing people’s problems. Give space for the person to discuss what is happening for them and only give advice when invited to do so.
  • Strive for clarity.
  • Ask what people need and say what you need.

Blamestorming: Why Conversations Go Wrong And How To Fix Them by Rob Kendall (Watkins Publishing, £8.99)

More inspiration:

See Psychologies editor Suzy Greaves interview psychologist and author Sarah Rozenthuler on how to listen so we really hear and talk so we're really heard on LifeLabs

Photograph: Gallerystock