from the


from the Top of the Mind


from the
Top of the Mind

“Dr. Crawford’s presentation was the highlight of the conference and a much needed reminder for all of us (especially nurses) to keep it all balanced. Bill’s psychology background surely protruded through his messages and I know it was well-received by all!”

Nancy Perovic, RN, BSN
University Of Chicago Hospitals, Chicago, IL

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“Until we understand the ‘why’ behind another’s resistance, we will be forever stuck in a brainstem debate about who’s right.”
~ Bill Crawford

Steps 3 & 4 – Dealing with Difficult People

This quote and comment comes in the middle of my laying out what I call, “The Six Steps to Effective Communication and Influence.” In the prior weeks, I have spoken about Steps One and Two which entail going into a conversation in the purposeful, proactive, upper 80% of the brain (the neocortex, or what I call, “The Top of the Mind”), and then ensuring that we have a sense of who “they” are (the person who is being difficult) when they are in the neocortex, as well.

These two steps are necessary, but not, sufficient, in terms of creating solution-focused conversations with others. In other words, unless we are able to go into a conversation centered and proactive (versus reactive) and have some idea of who the other person is at their best, all we will see is their “difficult” behavior, and the potential for success will be nil.

On the other hand, if we are able to be successful in Steps One and Two, we will be in an excellent position to successfully move on to Steps Three and Four, however, we must be aware of the trap that lies in these next two steps. The trap is the fact that these next suggestions (listening and empathizing) will be somewhat familiar to most, and, therefore, there is the danger that the brain will minimize their importance. Therefore, I’m going to ensure that we look below the surface at the neuroscience involved in effective listening and empathizing so that our getting everyone to the “Top of the Mind” remains our focus and our goal.

In other words, rather than just listening to be polite or to just “let them vent,” I suggest we listen to learn at least two things… 1) what part of the brain are they coming from, and 2) the belief or perspective that is driving their resistance. The reason for the first is that if someone is coming from the brainstem (the irrational brain), then trying to give them information or discuss a solution will be futile because they are not in the part of the brain that can process data. In addition, chances are that they believe that they are “right,” and, therefore, will dismiss any information to the contrary. On the other hand, listening to learn why they are upset, and then freeing them from the need to defend that perspective by empathizing with them will put you in the best position to shift to a solution-focused conversation in Step Five and Six.

Unfortunately, many people have tremendous difficulty with listening and empathizing because it feels like they are “losing,” or not being authentic. It’s common to hear someone say, “How can I just sit there and listen to them when they are clearly not making any sense?” That concern is understandable, however, notice the worry, and frustration that is behind this question. This means that the person wanting to be influential has skipped (or forgotten) Steps One and Two, and is stuck in the “frustrated” part of the brain.

On the other hand, when we listen with curiosity, and let the other person know that we “get it,” this will not only give us good information as to what is important to them (which will be critical to our being successful in the next step), it frees them from needing to convince us that they have a right to think and feel what they think and feel, which puts them in a more receptive position when we go to Step Five.

The easiest way to do this is to listen and say, “Okay, I can see how you would be concerned (or upset) about this.” Notice, we didn’t say we agree. Stephen Covey said, “Seek first to understand, and then be understood.” This wisdom is not just a good idea, it incorporates the neuroscience of ensuring we are coming from the clear, confident, creative part of the brain, and that we are not driving them deeper into their resistant brain.

Next week, I will give you the “magic” 5th step in this process that is designed to get others to shift from their resistant brain to their receptive brain. To my knowledge, this 5th step does not exist in any other method of communication or influence. In the meantime, I suggest you practice Steps 1-4 to ensure that you are in the best place (the correct part of the brain) to be influential, to ensure that you know the key to their cooperation which is what they are worried about and/or what is important to them, and to ensure that they know you “get it” so that they no longer need to defend their position.

Bottom line, much like an Aikido master who always goes into an interaction centered and confident, being influential with “difficult people” requires that we are coming from the centered, confident part of who we are, as well. In addition, we must understand what is causing their resistance in order to eventually be understood, and they need to understand that we get it. Once this is accomplished, we can then apply the “magic” of Step Five. Stay tuned!

~ All the best, Dr. Bill

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