On constructive conversations

Have you ever been on the receiving end of a conversation and felt drained, while your face gradually acquires a more grim and intense shape?

There is a constructive and a non-constructive way to carry a conversation. A lot depends on the speaker. A lot depends on the speaker’s projection of the message and the speaker’s inner energy.

In decomposing the communication further yet, we’ll find that our brain tends to anchor on the message polarity, reinforcing it with further supporting content. What do I mean by that?

If you frame the conversation subject positively, the brain tends to provide further positive contributing content. For a negatively framed subject, the brain leans towards the opposite.

I vividly experienced the above in the public speaking club a couple of days ago. In posing a series of improvisation topics to the participants, I framed the questions negatively, leaving them no choice but to continue on that path, at least if they were to play my little game. I did this quiet innocently without much consideration or ill intent.

I improvised questions to the lines of perceived problems in society and possible negative trends in history. Upon hearing the responses, I quickly felt increasingly drained, something I could have avoided by either reframing the questions positively, or asking slightly different questions that would essentially provide the same information but positively anchored.

In positively framing the question, you recruit the constructive thinking muscle. For example, rather than asking a variation of list some problems you find with such and such, which causes the brain to seek further negative reinforcement and slowly drain the surrounding “field of influence”, you can pose a slightly more open, but positively-framed question, what are some ways you mitigate problems in such and such? The latter still causes the subject to identify the problems from the original query, but immediately anchors a constructive response in having to consider solutions, and not simply voice problems.

Similarly, rather than asking what do you regret about X?, you can ask a similar what have you learned from X?. The latter causes the subject not to seek everything that went wrong, but constructively consider the positive consequences from the experience.

Yet another example. Rather than asking Has it been a tough day? as a fairly common opening question, take a few seconds to reframe it into perhaps a more constructive, although a bit literary how have you persevered today? Both are arguably silly questions, as many opening questions tend to be, but imagine yourself being asked each variety and meditate on your response emotions to feel the difference.

Let’s consider a more complex scenario. If I am ill, injured, or in challenging settings, personally, I cringe at questions that cause me to reinforce the fatal nature of the circumstances. Yet the task of positively anchoring a similar question doesn’t lend itself to immediate intuition. It requires creativity, humor, or some twist that causes the problem to no longer seem like a problem, but routine not worth even minding or embarrassing to take seriously.

The above need not necessarily be a question addressed to you in regard to your struggles. Sometimes we simply desire to complain, initiating the negative framework. I see the task of circumventing the negative anchoring as a responsibility on both sides of the conversation. If I complain to someone, the other person has the capacity to positively rechannel the conversation. I also have the power not to complain; not to complain non-constructively. And similarly, I have the power not to pose negative, non-constructive questions to someone already clouded in negative reinforcement. The responsibility rests with each individual. Bear only in mind, that once you anchor your communication, the brain happily complies and respectively proceeds.

Employing a residual inner-visual can help in avoiding all manner of non-constructive complaints. For example, firmly imagine yourself as part of Napoleon’s cavalry on the return march from Moscow in late 1812. Compared to the challenges they faced with exhausted supplies, cold, starvation, rapidly spreading disease, cannibalism, or night-time peasant attacks, your issues might suddenly appear less severe. (You might also question the scenario as contingent on the stage in the journey as well as the cavalry position in the very long, although gradually diminishing line.) Alternatively, imagine yourself as Napoleon himself. Or Catherine the Great. You’re in charge of the visual. However, I severely digress, and have meant to explore the topic of visuals in another writing.

To summarize the message:

A constructively framed communication positively energizes the surrounding field of influence. A negatively framed communication achieves the opposite.