Start right and you have got a fighting chance to achieve what you are hoping to do—whether that means being clearly understood, creating a mood conducive to closeness or healing a misunderstanding. How your conversation begins is likely how it ends. Research indicates that the initial interchange between partners largely determines the course and outcome of the entire conversation. Start on the wrong foot and you’ll likely end up stumbling, tripping, tripping up your partner or escalating anger. So your mindset at the beginning of conversation with your partner, or anyone else with whom your connection is important, bears scrutiny.
Ever wonder what a mindful conversation is? The three following questions will move you into mindful conversation territory. They exemplify the kind of anticipatory strategizing that opens dialogue and builds emotional safety. They also slow down reactivity. Your awareness of the answers, even approximate answers, to these questions maximize your chances for being heard and feeling good about your communication process. Skip them at your peril:
Question #1: How are you feeling? Awareness of how you feel is primary. To speak or act without awareness of how you are feeling is dangerous. In order to create emotionally safe messages, you’ve got to start out with an awareness of where you yourself are coming from.
Question #2: How is your partner feeling? Think about who your partner is at the moment. Are they at their best? Their worst? Are they likely to have a problem with what you have in mind to discuss? None of these questions necessarily prohibit you from trying to have a dialogue in the moment. The point of mentioning these things is that they are the kind of considerations that can help you decide when the optimal time to get your message across may be. Many issues require ongoing conversation, so the idea is often not to target a time to resolve a particular issue but to find a time to open it for discussion and then work to continue resolving it.
Question #3: What do you want to accomplish in your conversation? Having awareness of what you would like to accomplish with your partner is critical to establishing a sense of connection. If you are able to move in the direction you would like, that’s great. If the conversation leaves you feeling that your approach was unproductive, you are then in a position to adjust accordingly. This posture—a flexible one—is useful and necessary. It is a sign that the way you approach your partner is nuanced and mindful of opportunities for learning from experience, rather than blindly plunging into conversation without regard to the consequences.
Knowing how you are positioning yourself and how your partner is experiencing the moment maximizes possibilities for a good start to the conversation. These questions may sound elemental but how you prepare for conversation will have a significant impact on how much you are able to accomplish in terms of improving the depth of connection you experience in important dialogues you have. Key point: Good conversation consists of the ability to make clear points and to be in good listening mode so that the dialogue can move towards a meeting of minds. If you begin a conversation with the sole intention of speaking your mind, that may be valuable—as a preliminary to dialogue; but it also can be a dialogue-stopper. Having the intention to speak your mind and encourage a flow of dialogue is what we are after.