The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

Contributing to a conversation

There is no easy solution to having great conversations with others.

Even more so, if the quest is to have great conversations with everyone and everywhere. There are too many circumstances that may affect the conversation. We don’t like everyone, in the same way, we may not be interested in the same subjects, the situation may not be adapted to having the conversation we look for, and maybe it’s not even the conversation we are looking for but simply the ability to spend some time together in presence.

However, there are a few principles we can follow to ease a sense of relatedness and openness.

They are protection, permission, and power.

When we bring protection to the conversation, we focus on developing a relational context that serves the relationship and allows for fruitful and healthy exchanges. While we may perceive the other person’s weaknesses as they are showing them or experiencing them, we leave them aside and pay attention to not use them. This also means to check in should we perceive a reaction that we might have touched them. This verifies if the relational context remains at the service of the relationship.

The idea of the permission is to establish a space in which the other feels at ease to express their feelings, intentions, and thoughts, as they see appropriate. It’s not about explicitly permitting to do so. It is about making oneself accessible to what the other seeks to express as well as pay attention to the limits they are setting. It is also about inquiring of feelings, intentions, and thoughts to show one’s interest and thus highlight the permission. And it is about making it easy for the other to say no, whenever a question might become too much.

The third principle, power, is the ability one has to assert one’s needs, demands, feelings, and opinions.

Naturally, the protection established and the permission shared are there to serve both. However, I would argue, that their most visible aspect is towards the other, even if one should also consider them as relevant for oneself. With power, this is slightly different. Power requires one’s own initiative and willingness to be vulnerable in expressing oneself. It unfolds the power of our vulnerability and eases the conversation by adding clarity to it.

Using our power to express ourselves removes what the French call sous-entendu from the conversation. These are hints, insinuations, or implied understandings people may add to the conversation. They do so in the hope to be free from expressing themselves or in the fear that using their power may not be allowed. Using our power isn’t about being blunt. It is about being able to connect with ourselves and experience our feelings, feel our needs, be clear as to what we want in that moment, and accept our opinions.

And, using our power isn’t easy. It takes time to develop and can be trained. That’s where giving permission and bringing protection will be there to let the other use only the power that is accessible to them in that situation. It’s also where we might sometimes need the permission and protection we are bringing to the conversation.

It helps to put the relationship first.


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