Earlier this week I wrote about my idea for helping our parishioners have better conversations. Healthy Conversations! What’s a healthy conversation? I’m going to draw on what I learned from Judith in my Conversational Intelligence® certification.
A healthy conversation is one that is open to hearing what other people have to say without judgement. How do you know if you’re doing this? Are you thinking about what you’ll say when they’re done talking while they’re still talking? If you are, then you’re listening only to respond, not to connect and understand. You’re also probably missing part of what they are saying.
Begin by listening to what they have to say. Take a second to process the information. Then ask clarifying questions to ensure you have all the information correct and you understand what they’re trying to communicate. They may have used a word or concept that you have a different definition for – ask them to clarify on that so you fully understand. Then take a moment to share your own response.
As a culture, we have a bad habit of ‘jumping to conclusions.’ Why do we do that? It’s neuroscience. At all times we are being thrown thousands of tiny pieces of information and our brain is trying to store, catalog, and respond to everything it sees. As I’m writing this in my office I’m not fully aware of everything around me. I’m focused on typing on my keyboard, ensuring I’m using the correct word and it’s spelled right, thinking about how I’m a little thirsty, and finally cool even though it’s still the heat of the summer. I am not actively aware of the fan on behind me, all of the items in my periphery vision, or the noise from the cars outside. In fact until I began typing about the potential distractions I wasn’t actively processing none of them was interrupting me. My brain is focused on the task at hand. This means that I might miss key details of my surroundings, like if someone came up behind me (which would be weird since I live alone and work in my home office). I’d jump out of my seat and my scream would be heard round the world! We’ve all scared someone who’s been extremely focused though – some people like doing this more than others.
We can only process about 50 pieces of information at a time, so our brains ignore and quickly catalog as much as possible. If I heard a loud crash outside my window, my entire focus would change to looking outside to see if people were hurt or I could see the accident.
My point is that when we aren’t fully paying attention to someone, we miss things. We hear them say one thing and put that in the file in our brain it most closely aligns itself too and move on from there. But they may not have meant it that way. We do this ‘filing’ in our minds to try to stay as safe as possible and identify threats – both physical and emotional.
When we consider these heavily controversial topics, our brains immediately try to catalog the information to help us respond quicker and maintain our sense of emotional safety. We have to intentionally slow down and listen. We have to be open to what the other person is trying to say rather than only fixated on how to get our point across as quick as possible.
Most of these conversations are happening in comment boxes where no one’s really listening to anyone else. They’re trying to one-up them, to somehow argue them on to their side, or defend their position for one reason or another.
If we’re going to change the culture by our conversations, we have to do this intentionally. We have to practice having the conversation. It’s hard work; I won’t deny that. If you choose to help your parishioners learn these skills, it’s going to be very hard work. But I’d also guess some of the most transformational work you could do to transform your parish.
If you want to talk more about how this might really look at your parish, let me know.