Tree-with-RootsWe are communicating with others all the time but how effective are we?  What has really caught Kate Griffiths’ attention this week is how often people need to be right.  When you are in this space you are rarely likely to get to a great outcome.  She wants to explore this further with you and share with some tips on how to turn this around. 

Insisting on being right, often leads to winning the battle and losing the war, in other words a pyrrhic victory.  It is very difficult to learn and grow because at its worst the need to be right can turn a person into Basil Fawlty (the lead character in a British comedy in the 1970s).  He got so frustrated when his car broke down that he beat it to death with a tree branch!  Obviously this is a gross exaggeration of what happens when a person gets triggered, done for comic effect.  However, similar things happen in discussions.  If you are wedded to a particular point of view then you are coming from a place of wanting to advocate that position at all costs. Consciously or unconsciously you want to win.  You will see yourself as justified in your point of view and believe that your motives are pure.  At its most extreme, the behaviour displayed is dogged attachment to a point of view; no interest in the others’ perspective and desire to save face.  The outcome of this is that there is the potential for huge misunderstandings, lack of trust, limited learning and ultimately reduced quality of life.

What often happens is that the other party just shuts down, stops trying to reason with you because it is easier.  It is not that they agree with you, they just feel unable or unwilling to say more.  The sadness is that this then becomes a lost opportunity for learning and understanding.  Ultimately you can become isolated because people are afraid to raise that particular topic or controversial topics in front of you because they don’t want to encounter the monster that needs to be right.  How do I know so much about this?  It is not just the training I have done around communication.  I know because this used to be me.  I work from the place of make your mess your message.

So what can you do?  Start by recognising who you are?  This comes from knowing what you feel passionate about.  Underneath that passion, is one or more of your values.  These are formed by what you believe.  Have you ever sat down and thought about that – questioned your beliefs and explored where they come from?  Beliefs are often unconscious and values can be too if you have never looked at them.  Yet it is these things which drive you to adopt certain attitudes and habits.  Take a look at the photo of the tree – the roots which often go deep into the soil represent your beliefs and assumptions, the trunk is your values and the foliage and leaves sprouting from the branches represent your attitudes and habits otherwise known as your personality.  To bring about deep and sustainable change you need to tackle the root system.

That is more of a long term project and is something you can start to unpick with a good coach.  So what are the easy wins, you are asking me?  Here are three steps to take when you find a conversation getting tricky:

  1.  Notice when you feel triggered.  You may have a thought pop up in your head saying what this person is saying is utter rubbish.  At this moment you have broken rapport and are on the brink of stepping into that I must win at all costs mentality.  This becomes much easier if you practise techniques like mindfulness because then you become more aware of the sensations in your body and how they change when you are disconnected.
  2. Take a breath.  Just focus on your breath for a count of 10 to give yourself time to choose how to respond.
  3. Become curious about what beliefs and assumptions are being triggered.  If that is too difficult then at least remain open to what the person is saying.  Ask them a question to gather more information and understand why they hold that particular view.

Always remember you are at choice as to how you react.  You can go on the defensive and tell the other person why they are wrong or you can don the learner mindset and be open to exploring the idea more. Another great thing to add into the mix is a bit of humour.  Humour is a great way to diffuse a tense situation.

Here’s an example of a situation I was in recently.  I found myself in a conversation with someone who had been a consultant for a Multi Level Marketing company.  There was a point in the conversation where I suggested that another product was reported to be of higher quality.   The response I got was a complete shut down to that possibility.  I was given a whole list of facts as to why the product that they had invested in was the best on the market.  At this point I had a choice.  I could go on the defensive and retaliate or I could accept that this was where this person was in their journey and let it go.  I chose the latter as our conversation was rich with so many other possibilities.  The result was we both went away fulfilled and inspired from our exchange rather than irritated and grumpy.

It is not always that easy which is why individuals and organisations pay me to help them have better quality conversations.  Creating conversations that lead to change can only happen when we are connected, curious, courageous and full of compassion for others and ourselves. So what do you find difficult to handle?  What have you tried to regain connection in a conversation?  What worked? What did not work?  I would love to hear your thoughts below.


Kate Griffiths has worked as a change consultant in coach and a range of organisations for over twenty years.  She now works primarily with conscious business owners and leaders that recognise the old paradigm way of doing things does not work and are trying to work out what the new ways of doing business look like.  She is passionate about creating conversations that lead to change and has developed her own process to do that called connection through conversation.  She also leads mindfulness workshops and leadership programmes for soulpreneurs.  If you want to get a flavour of her work then do sign up for the morning taster session she is running on 8 November –

How do you move from confrontation to an exchange of ideas?

2 thoughts on “How do you move from confrontation to an exchange of ideas?

  • October 16, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    This is a great article Kate. Thanks for writing it. I have found myself in many situations where I have listened to reply rather to listen to understand and the reverse, when people have had that attitude towards me. And I feel really frustrated in both situations as I long for deeper connections through dialogues. I have found very useful the fact of letting them being on their path and staying mindfulness when we have been triggrered. As you said it is all about openess and willingness to learn. How wonderful and enriching would be our conversations if that would be our unique purpose. Lots of Love. Laura

    • October 16, 2013 at 2:36 pm

      Bless you Laura thanks for taking the time to leave a comment as it is lovely to hear from people within my community. I cannot believe it is nearly a year since you came to a Connection through Conversation event. Have you seen as I think you would love it if you can get time off from your employer? And yes the world would be a very different place but one step at a time. On Monday someone tweeted this to me For living her vision and being herself, I nominate @wholeself as #PersonOfTheDay. I was moved and v touched. Love, light and laughter to you and keep the faith.

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