Augmented Unreality, Part 2

If you can’t remember the last time you had a real conversation, never mind the last time one changed your mind about a position you held, you’re not alone.

Personal devices and adaptive search applications are fueling our addiction to a constant flow of information that confirms our preconceptions and biases and makes us feel okay about them and, by extension, ourselves. It’s easier than ever to retreat into our own heads. Distance and disconnection are starting to seem normal, and that should concern us.

In Part 1, I talked about our increasing ability to create our own reality, or to augment unreality by being highly selective in the information we consume, the relationships we form, and the environments we inhabit.

Personal devices and adaptive search applications actually fuel our addiction to a constant flow of information that confirms our preconceptions and biases. It’s easier than ever to retreat into our own heads.

One consequence of this microcosmic migration: distance and disconnection, and the inability to have meaningful conversations with one another, which makes us less likely and less able to agree on the important choices in our lives, whether personal, professional, or societal.

We see evidence of this all around us every day. But in a business context, in our livelihoods, we have to find a way to bring disparate points of view to common resolution. We literally cannot afford not to connect with our colleagues.

Previously, I shared some suggestions from a note I’d written to myself about how I thought I could improve the odds of having a good conversation with a colleague in advance of a crucial conversation. I highlighted the importance of detaching myself from anything outside of what was happening in the present moment, catching myself if I sensed any thought creeping into my head that might skew my perceptions, and keeping things simple.

Here’s more of what I wrote, with a little elaboration.

Don’t Judge

Resist the temptation to judge the people or positions in the room. You don’t add anything valuable by judging except boosting your own ego and closing your mind to anything that might emerge.

You can be acutely aware without judging.

Most people play roles most of the time, but they are not their roles. Don’t mistake the positions they take in the roles that they play for who they are.

And even if their professional positions are entirely consonant with their deepest personal values, summarily judging them as good or bad human beings creates mental resistance in you (and, if you’re impolitic enough to show your feelings, in them) that makes real connection very difficult.

If you don’t like them, don’t see them as an equal, you won’t engage. If you love them and put them on a pedestal, you also won’t engage because you don’t perceive them to be on the same level as you are. Either way, there’s a disconnect. Someone’s looking down and someone else is being looked down upon.

Most positions, even if extreme or disagreeable to you, have a problem as their genesis with which you may well be able to agree and that may be enough. Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt differed greatly in how they wanted Europe to evolve after World War II. But the problems of neutralizing Hitler and ensuring that history didn’t repeat itself were something on which they could and did agree — a unanimity that helped to win the war.

Name your Position

At the start of what you anticipate might be an important or difficult conversation, let’s say a negotiation with a potential business partner or the resolution of an internal conflict over which strategy to pursue, don’t think to yourself, this is my position. Rather, “name it”: “The position I’m taking is X”. This is a subtle but important difference.

You don’t want to lose yourself, to identify too closely with any point of view. Your point of view is not you. It isn’t your position; keep some distance.

Your ego will want to identify closely with whatever comes out of your mouth. So if someone attacks your position, which will happen eventually in most cases, you’ll feel personally attacked. And when you do, your reptilian brain will signal that you need to attack back, and your opportunity to find common ground and make a connection will be lost.

Even if you get beyond the initial impasse and find your way back to some shared understanding, you’ll have created a negative memory trace that will re-emerge and cause you dissonance when you have to engage again with the person you believed attacked you. Why generate this mental noise? Why create a knot in your stomach every time you see him or her in the cafeteria?

You don’t have to give up the position you’re taking. You can hold it close, but not so close that you’re knocked over when someone takes a swing at it. There’s seldom only one way to get something done.

Don’t React; Absorb and Understand

It’s too easy just to react; it feels too good — the adrenaline runs, the body engages.

Reaction reinforces the sense of self, and you defend your position as though it were your life. It isn’t, and you shouldn’t.

There may be one or two instances in your life when you can and should ignore this advice. But in most cases, it applies.

I’ve heard it said that the need to always be right is a form of emotional violence. In some relationships this may be true. But in most, it just gets in the way of coming to an understanding — impeding our ability to rise above our narrow positions and arrive at a better place than we would have come to on our own.

Use the energy you’d expend reacting and resisting to absorb and understand.

Absorption means letting something sink in so you can feel it as though the position were your own. Understanding means mustering enough empathy to appreciate why someone might feel as he does even if you don’t agree.

Get Comfortable Not Knowing

Create space in the conversation (and, more importantly, in your own mind before walking in to the room) for some second or third way to emerge that you might not have considered before you started the discussion.

Get comfortable not knowing where you’ll wind up. If possible, consider a range of acceptable outcomes; don’t fixate on only one outcome that will meet your expectations. If you’ve taken a professional negotiation course, you’ll recognize this technique.

By consciously considering alternative courses and outcomes, you’ll own these, psychologically speaking. They won’t feel imposed on you, and you’ll be better able to move ahead with your sense of self-satisfaction and confidence intact.

In Part 3, I’ll conclude with a few additional suggestions for enabling more artful conversations that create real value for you and the person whose help you’re seeking.

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Charles Roussel

For a few decades, I’ve been a business and non-profit leader, adviser, investor, trustee, and observer. I write about mindfulness in business and life.