4 Questions to Ask Ourselves for Better Conversations - Deepstash

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Unconscious Conversations

Every day we engage in conversations rooted in ritual and social norms. With no conscious effort, we shift from one role to another. One minute, we’re the spouse happily cooking breakfast with our spouse. Shortly after, we’re meeting a client for lunch as a trusted advisor. And at the end of the day, we’re having cocktails with a friend as a confidant. No matter who we’re interacting with, our emotions, wants, worries, and judgments are embedded in each conversation.


1.19K reads

Shape-Shifting Interlocutors

We mostly shape-shift on autopilot, giving no thought to our personal conversational patterns. But when we pay attention to these patterns, we become more objective observers, reducing negative judgments about ourselves and others and creating space in our minds for navigating uncomfortable interactions.


1.07K reads

Standing With Our Feet In Two Boats

Voice Dialogue is the psychological concept of the internal self, developed through socialization. According to Drs. Hal Stone and Sidra Stone, the psychologists who developed the method, we adopt different personalities to cope with the vulnerabilities and complexities of life. In every interaction, we must not only navigate the roles and words of others, but we must navigate ourselves. It’s no surprise then that interactions go awry and confound us.


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4 Questions to Ask for Better Conversations

To uncover the patterns of thinking that serve or hinder us in conversation, we can ask ourselves four questions.

  1. What roles can I observe in my interactions?
  2. What story am I bringing to the conversation?
  3. What’s fact and what’s fiction in my conversation?
  4. What questions can I ask to understand others better?

Each question gives a window into conversational dynamics and patterns so we can better navigate confusing or fraught interactions.


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1. What Roles Can I Observe in My Interactions?

Each role we play with others involves intrinsic power issues, and real and perceived power dynamics play out, unspoken and unacknowledged. Those dynamics can enhance or hinder conversations.

In any conversation, ask yourself what role you are playing, and pay attention to the power dynamics. As a boss, are you coming off as arrogant or humble? As a direct report, are you presenting as judgmental or respectful? As a friend, are you critical or supportive? As a parent, are you fearful or loving?


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2. What Story Am I Bringing to the Conversation?

We thrive on the stories we adopted from our families and cultures. They facilitate connections, and when we hear stories that resonate with our patterns of thinking, our brains fire up. We experience neural coupling, an uptick of dopamine, and a positive shared experience. No matter the role we play—mother, father, sibling, leader, or friend—every interaction is a complex collection of stories and potential connection.


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Following A Broken Compass

Stories are vital. Unfortunately, they can trap us in fear, worry, and conflict. When someone opposes our beliefs, we can become emotionally triggered and react on autopilot.

Our stories help us navigate life, but we suffer when our ego is caught in their grip. We don’t have to give up our stories. We just have to be aware of them, recognize them, and consciously choose those that serve us and reject those that don’t.


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3. What’s Fact And What’s Fiction in My Conversation?

Our stories consist of facts and opinions. That might seem apparent, but fact and fiction become a perplexing, tangled web because our stories are so crucial to our identities, our egos, and the roles that we play. It’s not surprising that they often lead us astray.

By recognizing our stories, we can investigate and transform them. Facts are inarguable and confirmative. Objective reality is based on our shared senses and our social norms, and our actions are recordable and objective. Sometimes we don’t agree with an action, but that doesn’t diminish its indisputable reality.


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Facts Sync Up Our Conversations. But We Sync With Our Opinions.

Facts are critical for establishing common ground from which we can connect and sync up our conversations.

Opinions, on the other hand, arise out of the collection of beliefs that we adopt throughout life. Unlike facts, our opinions are complex, personal, and uncertain. Our egos, roles, and personalities are very comfortable with our opinions, which comprise a big part of our thoughts. We readily defend them because we identify so closely with them.


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Conscious Choices About (Often) Unconscious Thoughts

When we investigate our opinions, we slowly detach from them and reveal our more profound—and often unconscious —thoughts so we can make conscious choices about their value.

We can use four fundamental components of opinions—desires, concerns, authority, and standards—to transform our thinking, allowing us to change a difficult conversation into a collaborative one.


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4 Fundamental Components Of Opinions

During a troubling conversation, ask yourself :

  • What desires and wants are part of this conversation?
  • What concerns about the future are affecting my thoughts related to this issue?
  • What power issues are impacting this conversation?
  • What standards am I using to make this judgment?


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4. What Questions Can I Ask to Understand Others Better?

We unconsciously advocate for and defend our positions because we’ve long been trained to “have the answer.” Advocacy is far more common than its underappreciated sibling, inquiry.

To change that dynamic, we can begin to listen to how we and others advocate in conversations. What is our tone when we offer our perspective? When questioned, are we defensive or open to other ideas? How do we react when others advocate their position forcefully?


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Open Advocacy And Open Inquiry

Instead of giving up our opinions, we can practice open advocacy. Open advocacy is holding our opinions more lightly and sharing the thinking under the surface of our stories, creating space for deeper understanding.

Open inquiry is the art of asking sincere, respectful questions to seek understanding. It’s a secret key to creating mutual learning and collaboration. When we inquire about others’ desires, concerns, issues of power, and standards, we invite them into collaborative, creative interactions that are far more fulfilling than the alternative.


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The Takeaway: Roles, Stories, Opinions, Interaction Styles

Asking these questions over time and observing our roles, stories, opinions, and interaction styles will dramatically increase our awareness and conversational skills and guide us to having more conscious satisfying conversations—and a little more peace.


303 reads



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Seeing the question “What are you bringing to the conversation?” in a whole new light. “An awful lot”, is the answer; and probably not in the way we thought, neither about “awful”, nor about “a lot”.

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