By Rob Furlong
Do you remember the story of Winnie-the-Pooh visiting his good friend Rabbit one day and following a wonderful afternoon tea, (where Pooh clearly ate too much) he became firmly wedged in the hole that served as Rabbit’s front door? What followed was a highly amusing – and insightful – conversation between the two of them:
“Rabbit wanted to go for a walk too, and finding the front door full, he went out by the back door, and came round to Pooh, and looked at him.
‘Hallo, are you stuck?’ he asked.
‘N-no,’ said Pooh carelessly. ‘Just resting and thinking and humming to myself.’
‘The fact is,’ said Rabbit, ‘you’re stuck.’
‘It all comes,’ said Pooh crossly, ‘of not having front doors big enough.’
‘It all comes,’ said Rabbit sternly, ‘of eating too much. I thought at the time,’ said Rabbit, ‘only I didn’t like to say anything,’ said Rabbit, ‘that one of us is eating too much,’ said Rabbit, ‘and I knew it wasn’t me,’ he said.”
It’s pretty clear these two need a crucial conversation but as we noted last month, barriers pop up which often prevent us from engaging in them!
What are some of the barriers to crucial conversations?
Inappropriately expressed anger
Anger can be both aggressive and passive. Aggressive anger is obvious to us. A person may yell, become abusive, be threatening and in some cases, use physical force to express their anger.
Passive anger, on the other hand, can lead a person to become sarcastic, shut down emotionally, sulk or make obscure comments which are intended to make a point but are not expressed honestly.
When a person consistently responds in one of the above ways every time a crucial conversation is broached, it acts as an immediate barrier by shutting the conversation down completely. In effect, the angry person is saying, “How dare you raise this with me? I do not want to listen to what you have to say!”
By defensiveness, I am not talking about a person’s need to explain why they acted or spoke in a certain way. If you are going to get to the bottom of an issue, then both sides of the story must be told and heard. But you know someone is being defensive when they avoid answering the question and then launch into blaming you or someone else for the problem.
Denial is the close cousin of defensiveness, and a person is in denial when they either refuse to, or cannot see what is obvious to everyone else. Think of it this way: your friend is complaining constantly about the awful pain in their right foot, and you gently try to point out there is a piece of glass sticking out of it, only to be met with, “Stop trying to fix my problem; I just want you to listen to me!”
Denial acts as a “safe” barrier for many people to avoid facing reality in their lives and hinders crucial conversations.
This is wonderfully demonstrated in the story about Pooh and Rabbit above! Notice how Rabbit avoids the honest conversation with Pooh. He tells him what he “thought,” naming the problem but not the person responsible, yet at the same time making it perfectly clear he is not the guilty party!
He forfeits the crucial conversation by never honestly talking with Pooh about his over-eating – he just hopes his friend will “get the hint!”
Hint dropping hurts: people catch on you are making a point about them without being told exactly where they have failed you.
And it becomes a barrier because it actively works against open, loving, honest and clear conversation.
Understanding the barriers to crucial conversations is important, but they should not be seen as a permanent deterrent.
It just means we will need a bit more wisdom when we come up against them!
By Rob Furlong