Friday, February 1, 2013

Detach from the Outcome for Peaceful Conversations (and Game Nights)

Killer Queen by aussiegall, cc license
Several months ago, early on in the life of this blog and immediately following a game night with friends, Jason asked if I was going to blog about how honest and gentle I am during board games. He was being sarcastic. At the time, I had no intention of sharing with you the beast I sometimes become when playing games. It's not pretty. And it's embarrassing. I mean, in what world does it make sense to feel so intensely angry at someone for simply thwarting my next brilliant move? In the heat of the moment, I've been known to swear and to tell people that I don't like them. Sure, it's usually under a shroud of playfulness, but the kicker is that deep down I wasn't enjoying myself. Deep down, I felt stressed because I was attached to winning and they way I was going to do it, when I had relatively little actual control over that outcome.

Challenging conversations can work similarly. How many times have you gone into a conversation with the purpose of convincing someone, getting an apology or something else you know you deserve (such as a raise), fixing a situation, or even delivering bad news without the other person feeling badly? And how did it go? My guess is that it was a less-than-ideal interaction and, at best, you felt anxious and on edge for most of it.

When you have a very specific outcome in mind for a particular interaction and a fairly rigid path for how to get there, you're pretty much doomed. Much more useful is to go in with the goals of understanding the other person, being understood yourself, and then moving forward collaboratively. When you detach from the outcome, stay in the moment, and let the conversation unfold more naturally, you will be pleasantly surprised with where you find yourself. I realize, of course, that this also involves having some faith and letting go of control - topics for another time, perhaps.

Happily, the same principles can be applied to board games. Staying in the moment and just enjoying the strategy and the good company is much more pleasant that clawing your way to a win. I can now respond to my husband that, yes, I will share how honest and gentle I am during board games - without a hint of sarcasm.

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  1. ha ha! board games can be very frustrating - i don't think i've ever won a game of Monoploy and i've played a LOT.

    I just finished reading Bend Not Break by Ping Fu ( and one of the pieces of her story had to do with learning this kind of openness and understanding in conversation.

    Her company, on the brink of financial disaster, was faced with two different lawsuits from their biggest clients who had a LOT of financial power (read: GOOD lawyers). After seeking legal counsel, she took an approach neither of the companies expected: she called a meeting with the two heads of the companies, no lawyers present, just the three of them. Her first statement? She admitted her company had made the mistake. Going in with that attitude of being vulnerable, listening and being open, everyone actually got what they wanted and I think she only paid for her airfare or something - much cheaper and friendlier!

  2. MEP...if you ever offered a workshop targeting this very topic...entering conversations with an outcome in mind and a fairly rigid concept of how to get there (...and I'd even expand to take the word "conversations" and replace it with a bit emotional X variable...), I would be there in a hurry. Just sayin'.