Monday, March 31, 2014

Saved by the Poop

The other day I was talking to my mom on the phone and our conversation became heated. We were arguing over the message of a particular news story and, suffice to say, we had two completely different perspectives. It may be helpful to explain that, while my mom and I have a LOT in common, political views are not one of the commonalities.

I was becoming so frustrated that I was close to saying something that would just be hurtful or to hanging up the phone. Exactly one moment before it came to that, Laurel had a big, loud poop. I was sure that it was a blow-out, and I was saved!


I was downright gleeful as I tried to get my mom's attention:
"Mom! Mom! I have to go! Mom!"
(Clearly, she was equally frustrated and using the just-keep-talking-until-she-hears-sense approach.)
"Mom! Mom! Stop talking! I have to go! Massive poop! I'll call you back!"
I ended the call and took Laurel upstairs for a change.

I was grateful for the break from the phone call. As I went through the motions of the diaper change, I could feel my heart rate slowing and I could begin to organize my thoughts.

I'm a big fan of taking a break when conversations become contentious. At that point, I'm not thinking straight and later I'll feel that I said something I shouldn't have said or else forgot to say something important. When the relationship becomes adversarial, I'd rather the conversation just stop for a bit.

During that time of cooling off, it's helpful to consider a few things so that when/if you do re-engage with the conversation, you give it the best chance of being productive.

First: (Why) Is this conversation important? 
Honestly, sometimes it's not important and sometimes it is worth just dropping it for the sake of the relationship. Other times, something important is at stake, or it is important for you to feel understood In the above case, with my mom, it felt important to me that we were at least able to understand each other, even if we still wouldn't agree with the other's perspective. Furthermore, I value my relationship with my mom - it's important to me, so I am willing to engage in more challenging conversations with her.

When considering why or if a conversation is important, keep in mind the value of the relationship or a shared goal and use that to re-engage in a positive way.

Second: What's going wrong?
Typically, it will be the case that you're not understanding each other. Perhaps you're both trying too hard to deliver your own thoughts without really listening to and acknowledging the other? Perhaps the conversation was not taking place at an ideal time or location? Or perhaps it's a conversation that should be taking place in person rather than over the phone or via email?

Third: What needs to happen? 
Once you have a sense of what's going wrong, you can figure out what needs to happen and figure out a strategy to get there.

In my case, I was able to realize that my mom and I would do much better if we were talking face-to-face, with cups of tea in hand, of course. I needed to fully hear out her perspectives and demonstrate that I understood her point of view before sharing my own point of view. And in this particular case, we both needed to review the story we were discussing, because we were both unclear on many details.

Armed with this insight, and cooled off from our intensifying debate, I was able to call mom back and suggest we post-pone the discussion for our next visit. I'll let you know how it goes...:)

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Image credit: diaper change by Kevin Phillips, cc license

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