Big Rocks in Difficult Conversations - Part II

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Big Rocks in Difficult Conversations - Part II

Starting with the “big rocks” is a method of prioritization. It makes sense when you have a long list of things to do… but does it apply to difficult conversations? I submit that there are 3 essential elements that must be a part of that next performance review, talk with your teenage daughter or family dinner conversation about cutting back on expenses. Think of it as a formula – “L-P-3.”


L=Learning Stance: This is pretty simple – ask lots of questions and strive to always be in a state of curiosity and fascination. Usually easier said than done, so just keep your listening active.

P=Positivity: The most important element of any difficult conversation is to keep tabs on the positivity ratio – the number of positive comments to negative ones. John Gottman says that a healthy relationship has a ratio of at least 5:1. Watch his comments in this YouTube video.

This means taking a look at ways you can acknowledge, appreciate, ask good questions, listen for needs and be kind to the other people in the room, instead of grumbling, making snide remarks and asserting authority over the them. Imagine that… 5 times as many positive comments as negative ones – can you do that?

3=The 3rd Story: In every situation there is my story, your story and the 3rd story. Typically we start with what’s going on inside us and move outward, and yet that’s often the very thing that caused the differences in the first place. While what’s going on inside us is vital to talk about at some point, it’s not the best place to begin. Instead, make it a priority to tell the 3rd story first. (For more information on this, see the book Difficult Conversations by Stone, Patton & Heen.)

It would go something like this in a conversation with a co-worker: The two of us have differences in the way we do things. You’re really good at putting the numbers together and I’m good at coming up with the plan (notice the positivity and something that both people can likely agree on, that there are differences). I’m curious (learning stance) if we can explore ways to help each other more effectively?


This sets the groundwork for a whole different kind of conversation –I’d dare say, a COURAGEOUS CONVERSATION! In the next deep or difficult conversation you have, will you keep L–P–3 in mind? Let me know how it goes...