In Leadership Greenville, we did an exercise that was particularly helpful. The leader held up a picture of people on different sides of a ravine, and we had to discuss what we saw. People threw out some facts about the picture, but soon went into assumptions. All kinds of judgements were flying around the room. The leader stopped and asked us to split the facts from the assumptions. We were all surprised by how few facts we really had.
Chris Argyris, a noted behavioral psychologist, came up with the idea that people place their thoughts and feelings in one of two places – their LEFT-hand column or their RIGHT-hand column. The left-hand column includes what we think or feel but don’t say. The right-hand column is what we do say.
What lurks beneath the surface in every conversation is what we don’t say. This is where our assumptions, biases, and motives reside. The things we don’t say are separate from the facts of the conversation and often can influence how we see, feel, and act during dialogue. If we are not skilled in dialogue, we can become derailed with these thoughts and are unable to focus on the real FACTS.
The primary problem when a conversation is deteriorating is not our behavior, but our headspace. The solution is to learn to stay focused on the facts, on what we really want for ourselves, for the other person, and for the relationship.