Why People Disengage
W. Edwards Deming, of Total Quality fame, once wrote. “If you can’t define what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you are doing.” I believe this is the case when we find ourselves mired in dysfunctional conversations, or when we just give up and disengage out of frustration. Often, we are just trying to convince the other of the righteousness of our perspective while they are doing the same with us. The result is that everyone leaves feeling angry and resentful, and nothing gets accomplished.
In other words, because there is no process in place to drive engagement and solution-focused conversations, “we don’t know what we are doing,” or that what we are doing is neither purposeful nor effective. This is why the third part of my “Life from the Top of the Mind” system is designed as a process that looks at the six obstacles to effective communication and influence, and provides an antidote to each.
As you might imagine, it contains some of the foundations of effective communication, such as, listening and empathizing, however, it looks at the process from a neuroscience perspective, which results in the model going beyond simply good social skills.
It begins with the concept of accountability, which I redefine as “the ability to be counted upon.” This means that it will be important for us to go into difficult conversations clear about the qualities and characteristics that we are going to bring to the discussion. These need to be chosen on purpose which means that they will be chosen by the purposeful part of the brain (what I call the Top of the Mind), and, further, that we are willing to take 100% accountability (their ability to count on us) to stay in this mindset no matter what they say or do.
The second step requires that we are reaching for their best during the conversation versus trying to stop their worst, or convince them that we are right. This is easier said than done, because our middle brain has a negative bias, and, therefore, pays more attention to the negative than the positive. The reason behind this has to do with its role in keeping us alive as a specie in the past, which required us to be hypervigilant to potential threats. Unfortunately, this gatekeeper part of the brain has not evolved as fast as society, and, therefore, tends to misinterpret disagreements as dangerous, and triggers the negative emotions of anger, resentment, and frustration, which are often the harbinger of conflict and disengagement.
As you can see, these two steps are very different from how many people begin difficult conversations, and contain no “giving advice.” They are designed to ensure that at least one of the participants (us) are coming from the solution-focused brain, which then raises the potential that the conversation will be solution-focused as well. Steps 3, 4, 5, and 6 are focused on finding what is important to each participant, and then asking questions that combine these perspectives into a future-oriented solution that works for everyone.
If this is something that you feel your organization and/or leadership team could use, I suggest that you contact me, because, until there is a process in place that drives engagement and solution-focused conversations, we will have a tendency to repeat all of the dysfunctional ways of communicating that have been so prevalent in the past, and the result will be more dysfunction and disengagement.
~ All the best, Dr. Bill