6.0 Introduction to The Seven Challenges
Upon completion of this unit you should be able to:
The sponsors of this course wish to acknowledge the source material in this unit is The Seven Challenges, A Workbook and Reader About Communicating More Cooperatively, by Dennis Rivers. Copyright 2001 by Dennis Rivers. Reproduced with authors permission. The sponsors have made a donation to fund the free distribution of approximately five thousand copies of the workbook to schools and community service organizations. We have added only the introduction section of the book to this course. Links to the complete sections may be found at the end of this section.
How we benefit from a more cooperative style of listening and talking.
Searching for what is most important. This workbook proposes seven ways to guide your conversations in directions that are more satisfying for both you and your conversation partners. I have selected these suggestions from the work of a wide range of communication teachers, therapists and researchers in many fields. While these seven skills are not all a person needs to know about talking, listening and resolving conflicts, I believe they are a large and worthwhile chunk of it, and a great place to begin.
The interpersonal communication field suffers from a kind of embarrassment of riches. There is so much good advice out there that I doubt than any one human being could ever follow it all. To cite just one example of many, in the early 1990s communication coach Kare Anderson wrote a delightful book (1)about negotiation that included one hundred specific ways to get more of what you want. The problem is that no one I know can carry on a conversation and juggle one hundred pieces of advice in his or her mind at the same time.
So lurking behind all that good advice is the issue of priorities: What is most important to focus on? What kinds of actions will have the most positive effects on peoples lives? This workbook is my effort to answer those questions. My goal is to summarize what many agree are the most important principles of good interpersonal communication, and to describe these principles in ways that make them easier to remember, easier to adopt and easier to weave together. Much of the information in this workbook has been known for decades, but that does not mean that everyone has been able to benefit from it. This workbook is my contribution toward closing that gap.
How we benefit from learning and using a more cooperative style. I have selected for this workbook the seven most powerful, rewarding and challenging steps I have discovered in my own struggle to connect with people and heal the divisions in my family. None of this came naturally to me, as I come from a family that includes people who did not talk to one another for decades at a time. The effort is bringing me some of each of the good results listed below (and I am still learning). These are the kinds of benefits that are waiting to be awakened by the magic wand of your study and practice.
Respecting the mountain we are about to climb together: why learning to talk and listen in new ways is challenging. I hope putting these suggestions into practice will surprise you with delightful and heartfelt conversations you never imagined were possible, just as I was surprised. And at the same time, I do not want to imply that learning new communication skills is easy.
I wish the skills I describe in this workbook could be presented as Seven Easy Ways to Communicate Better. But in reality, the recommendations that survived my sifting and ranking demand a lot of effort. Out of respect for you, I feel the need to tell you that making big, positive changes in the way you communicate with others will probably be one of the most satisfying and most difficult tasks you will ever take on, akin to climbing Mt. Everest. If I misled you into assuming these changes were easy to make, you would be vulnerable to becoming discouraged by the first steep slope. Fore-warned of the amount of effort involved, you can plan for the long climb. My deepest hope is that if you understand the following four reasons why learning new communication skills is challenging, that under-standing will help you to be more patient and more forgiving with yourself and others.
First of all, learning better communication skills requires a lot of effort because cooperation between people is a much more complex and mentally demanding process than coercing, threatening or just grabbing what you want. The needs of two people (or many) are involved rather than just the needs of one. And thinking about the wants of two people (and how those wants might overlap) is a giant step beyond simply feeling ones own wants.(3)
The journey from fighting over the rubber ducky to learning how to share it is the longest journey a child will ever make, a journey that leads far beyond childhood. Reaching this higher level of skill and fulfillment in living and working with others requires effort, conscious attention, and practice with other people.
A second reason that learning more effective and satisfying communication skills does not happen automatically is that our way of communicating with others is deeply woven into our personalities, into the history of our hearts. For example, if, when I was little, someone slapped me across the face or yelled at me every time I spoke up and expressed a want or opinion, then I probably would have developed a very sensible aversion to talking about what I was thinking or feeling. It may be true that no one is going to hit me now, but a lot of my brain cells may not know that yet. So learning new ways of communicating gets us involved in learning new ways of feeling in and feeling about all our relationships with people. We can become more confident and less fearful, more skillful and less clumsy, more understanding of others and less threatened by them. Changes as significant as these happen over months and years rather than in a single weekend.
A third side of the communications mountain concerns self-observation. In the course of living our attention is generally pointed out toward other people and the world around us. As we talk and joke, comfort others and negotiate with them, we are often lost in the flow of interaction. Communicating more cooperatively involves exerting a gentle influence to guide conversations toward happier endings for all the participants. But in order to guide or steer an unfolding process, a person needs to be able to observe that process. So communicating more cooperatively and more satisfyingly requires that we learn how to participate in our conversations and observe them at the very same time! It takes a while to grow into this participating and observing at the same time. At first we look back on conversations that we have had and try to understand what went well and what went badly. Gradually we can learn to bring that observing awareness into our conversations.
A final reason (four is surely enough) that learning new communication skills takes effort is that we are surrounded by a flood of bad examples. Every day movies and TV offer us a continuing stream of vivid images of sarcasm, fighting, cruelty, fear and mayhem. And as beer and cigarette advertisers have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, you can get millions of people to do something if you just show enough vivid pictures of folks already doing it. So at some very deep level we are being educated by the mass media to fail in our relationships.(4) For every movie about people making peace with one another, there seem to be a hundred movies about people hacking each other to death with chainsaws or literally kicking one another in the face, which are not actions that will help you or me solve problems at home or at the office. Learning to relate to others generally involves following examples, but our examples of interpersonal skill and compassion are few and far between.
These are the reasons that have led me to see learning new communication skills as a demanding endeavor. My hope is that you will look at improving your communication skills as a long journey, like crossing a mountain range, so that you will feel more like putting effort and attention into the process, and thus will get more out of it. Living a fully human life is surprisingly similar to playing baseball or playing the violin. Getting better at each requires continual practice. You probably already accept this principle in relation to many human activities. I hope this workbook will encourage and support you in applying it to your own talking, listening and asking questions.
Seven ways of being the change you want to see. Because conversations are a bringing together of both persons contributions, when you initiate a positive change in your way of talking and listening, you can single-handedly begin to change the quality of all your conversations. The actions described in this work-book are seven examples of being the change you want to see (a saying I recently saw attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, the great teacher of nonviolence).
While this may sound very idealistic and self-sacrificing, you can also under-stand it as a practical principle: model the behavior you want to evoke from other people. The Seven Challenges are also examples of another saying of Gandhis: the means are the ends. Communicating more openly and compassionately can be satisfying ends in themselves, both emotion-ally and spiritually. They also build happier families and more successful businesses.
A brief summary of each challenge is given in the paragraphs that follow, along with some of the lifelong issues of personal development that are woven through each one. In Chapters One through Seven you will find expanded descriptions of each one, with discussions, examples, exercises and readings to help you explore each suggestion in action.
Challenge 1. Listen more carefully and responsively. Listen first and acknowledge what you hear, even if you dont agree with it, before expressing your experience or point of view. In order to get more of your conversation partners attention in tense situations, pay attention first: listen and give a brief restatement of what you have heard (especially feelings) before you express your own needs or position. The kind of listening recommended here separates acknowledging from approving or agreeing. Acknowledging another persons thoughts and feelings does not have to mean that you approve of or agree with that persons actions or way of experiencing, or that you will do whatever someone asks.
Challenge 2. Explain your conversational intent and invite consent. In order to help your conversation partner cooperate with you and to reduce possible misunderstandings, start important conversations by inviting your conversation partner to join you in the specific kind of conversation you want to have. The more the conversation is going to mean to you, the more important it is for your conversation partner to understand the big picture. Many successful communicators begin special conversations with a preface that goes something like: I would like to talk with you for a few minutes about [subject matter]. When would be a good time? The exercise for this step will encourage you to expand your list of possible conversations and to practice starting a wide variety of them.
Challenge 3. Express yourself more clearly and completely. Slow down and give your listeners more information about what you are experiencing by using a wide range of I-statements. One way to help get more of your listeners empathy is to express more of the five basic dimensions of your experience: Here is an example using the five main I-messages identified by various researchers over the past half century: (Please read down the columns)
Anytime one person sincerely listens to another, a very creative process is going on in which the listener mentally reconstructs the speakers experience. The more facets or dimensions of your experience you share with easy-to-grasp I statements, the easier it will be for your conversation partner to reconstruct your experience accurately and understand what you are feeling. This is equally worthwhile whether you are trying to solve a problem with someone or trying to express appreciation for them. Expressing yourself this carefully might appear to take longer than your usual quick style of communication. But if you include all the time it takes to unscramble everyday misunderstandings, and to work through the feelings that usually accompany not being understood, expressing yourself more completely can actually take a lot less time.
Challenge 4. Translate your (and other peoples) complaints and criticisms into specific requests, and explain your requests. In order to get more cooperation from others, whenever possible ask for what you want by using specific, action-oriented, positive language rather than by using generalizations, whys, donts or somebody shoulds. Help your listeners comply by explaining your requests with a so that..., it would help me to... if you would... or in order to... . Also, when you are receiving criticism and complaints from others, translate and restate the complaints as action requests. ....).
· Some of the deeper levels of this fourth step include developing a strong enough sense of self-esteem that you can accept being turned down, and learning how to imagine creative solutions to problems, solutions in which everyone gets at least some of their needs met.
Challenge 5. Ask questions more open-endedly and more creatively. Open-endedly...: In order to coordinate our life and work with the lives and work of other people, we all need to know more of what other people are feeling and thinking, wanting and planning. But our usual yes/no questions actually tend to shut people up rather than opening them up. In order to encourage your conversation partners to share more of their thoughts and feelings, ask open-ended rather than yes/no questions. Open-ended questions allow for a wide range of responses. For example, asking How did you like that food/movie /speech/doctor/etc.? will evoke a more detailed response than Did you like it? (which could be answered with a simple yes or no). In the first part of Challenge Five we explore asking a wide range of open-ended questions.
and more creatively... When we ask questions we are using a powerful language tool to focus conversational attention and guide our interaction with others. But many of the questions we have learned to ask are totally fruitless and self-defeating (such as, parents to a pregnant teen, Why???!!! Why have you done this to us???!!!). In general it will be more fruitful to ask how questions about the future rather than why questions about the past, but there are many more creative possibilities as well. Of the billions of questions we might ask, not all are equally fruitful or illuminating; not all are equally helpful in solving problems together. In the second part of Challenge Five we explore asking powerfully creative questions from many areas of life.
· Deeper levels of this fifth step include developing the courage to hear the answers to our questions, to face the truth of what other people are feeling. Also, learning to be comfortable with the process of looking at a situation from different perspectives, and learning to accept that people often have needs, views and tastes different from your own (I am not a bad person if you love eggplant and I cant stand it).
Challenge 6. Express more appreciation. To build more satisfying relationships with the people around you, express more appreciation, delight, affirmation, encouragement and gratitude. Because life continually requires us to attend to problems and breakdowns, it gets very easy to see in life only what is broken and needs fixing. But satisfying relationships (and a happy life) require us to notice and respond to what is delightful, excellent, enjoyable, to work well done, to food well cooked, etc. It is appreciation that makes a relationship strong enough to accommodate differences and disagreements. Thinkers and researchers in several different fields have reached similar conclusions about this: healthy relationships need a core of mutual appreciation.
Challenge 7. Make better communication an important part of your everyday life. In order to have your new communication skills available in a wide variety of situations, you will need to practice them in as wide a variety of situations as possible, until, like driving or bicycling, they become second nature. The Seventh Challenge is to practice your evolving communication skills in everyday life, solving problems together, giving emotional support to the important people in your life, and enjoying how you are becoming a positive influence in your world. This challenge includes learning to see each conversation as an opportunity to grow in skill and awareness, each encounter as an opportunity to express more appreciation, each argument as an opportunity to translate your complaints into requests, and so on.
Conclusion. I hope the information and exercises in this workbook will help you discover that listening and talking more consciously and cooperatively can be fun and rewarding. Just as guitar playing and basketball take great effort and bring great satisfaction, so does communicating more skillfully.
Copyright 2001 by Dennis Rivers. Reproduced with authors permission.
One page summary
1. According to lesson 6.1 of Unit 6 in the training course,
listening more carefully and responsively ________
A. separates acknowledging from approving or agreeing.
B. reduces the intentions to injure, demean or punish other people
as consenting equals.
C. develops a strong enough sense of self-esteem that you can
accept being turned down.
D. means learning how to create little islands of cooperation
2. Special conversation with a preface that goes something like
"I would like to talk with you for a few minutes about
[subject matter]. When would be a good time?" is an example of
which one (1) of the following seven challenges for communicating
A. Challenge 1: Listening more carefully and responsively.
B. Challenge 2: Explain your conversational intent and invite consent.
C. Challenge 5: Ask questions more "open-endedly" and more creatively.
D. Challenge 6: Expressing more appreciation.
3. Match the following five dimensions of experience to their associated
A. ___What are you seeing, hearing (1) because I want to start
or otherwise sensing? cooking dinner right
B. ___What emotions are you feeling? (2) so that dinner will be
ready by the time the
guests get here
C. ___What interpretations or wants (3) when I saw the dishes in
of yours that support those the sink
D. ___What action, information or (4) I felt irritated and
commitment you want to impatient
E. ___What positive results will (5) and I want to ask you to
receiving the action, help me do the dishes
information or commitment right now
lead to in the future?
4. When you are receiving criticism and complaints from others,
which one (1) of the following is the BEST action to take?
A. Bring the conversation to a quick close.
B. Translate and restate the complaints as action requests.
C. Counter the criticisms and complaints by placing blame
D. Ignore the criticism and complaints and continue the
conversation as if they never occurred.
5. Which one (1) of the following is NOT an example of an
A. "What kind of information do you need in order to go forward?"
B. "How comfortable are you with the project plan B?"
C. "How did you like that food/movie/speech/etc.?"
D. "Have you been taking your medication?"
6. According to thinkers and researchers, as discussed in Unit 6 of
your training course, which one (1) of the following provides the
core for a healthy relationship strong enough to accommodate
differences and disagreements?
7. Which one (1) of the following is NOT an example of Challenge 7
"Make better communication an important part of your everyday
A. Learning to separate yourself from the current culture of
violence, insult and injury.
B. Practice your evolving communication skills in everyday life,
solving problems together, and giving emotional support to
the important people in your life.
C. Learning to listen to your own heart, and learning to encounter
identities and integrities quite different from your own, while
still remaining centered in your own sense of self.
D. Learning to see each conversation as an opportunity to grow in
skill and awareness, each encounter as an opportunity to
express more appreciation, and each argument as an opportunity
to translate your complaints