How Confrontational Intelligence Can Get You What You Want

Last year, I studied and was certified in Judith Glaser's Conversational Intelligence (C-IQ) work. In her teachings, she describes the Three Levels of Conversation as follows:

Level I is transactional.

This is when we exchange information. You ask. I tell. Repeat. Reverse. And so goes the dance. This is simply giving instructions or directing someone.

Level II is positional.

It is an exchange of power, when we explore what we know. It is persuading, advocating, inquiring and influencing others to agree with us.

Level III occurs when we share and discover what we don’t know together.

This is having what I call a co-active conversation. Level III conversations create a lot of space to feel safe and be safe.

Conversational Intelligence has taught me when and how to use these different levels of conversations. Using this model helps me find a common language with my clients, who go on to have a common language with their teams. It has also helped me learn how my mind may hinder or support me in being successful in certain conversations and help me get what I want.

Confrontation is one of those things that most us turn away from — no, run away from. Confrontation has such a negative connotation in our society that most people will avoid it at all costs.

Each of us has experienced a time when avoiding a conversation is just easier than addressing it. But does this really help us get what we want? I think the answer is no. The dictionary defines the word "confront" as "to face in hostility or defiance," which sounds threatening.

Yes, conversations can turn hostile, but we can also define confrontation as simply opposing or meeting face-to-face. In this context, I think it is more about standing up for ourselves and for what we want. So, what are we afraid of? What causes us to become fearful of these conversations just thinking about them?

There is a part of our brain that developed first in human beings. This is a part of our limbic system, frequently called our "reptilian brain." This is the part of the brain that is consistently scanning the landscape to decide what we should do next: fight, flee or freeze. But the most currently formed part of our brain is the prefrontal cortex, also known as our executive brain. This part of the brain helps us to differentiate among conflicting thoughts and work toward our goals. It helps to suppress urges that, if not suppressed, could lead to socially unacceptable outcomes. Empathy lives here.

Dr. Angelika Dimoka, head of the Neural Decision-Making Department at Temple University Fox School of Business, along with other researchers, was able to locate trust in the pre-frontal cortex and distrust in the lower brain, including the amygdala, which is located in our limbic system. The amygdala plays a large role in our remembering experiences and feeling emotions, including fear. There has been much research done about "brain-and-heart" communication.

As Glaser says, "The heart contains its own intrinsic nervous system, called the “heart-brain,” which functions independently from the big brain in our head ... Neuro-cardiologists discovered that the heart-brain has neurons that can sense, feel, learn and remember, then sends this information in the form of a heart rhythm pattern to the amygdala, thalamus and frontal lobes." In order to have confrontational intelligence work for you, you need to be consciously decreasing distrust and increasing trust between you and the person you are conversing with. How do you do this?

Be conscious of how and when your words could trick the other individual to fall into their limbic system, the part of the brain that focuses on the fight, flee or freeze actions. Speak with understanding and openness. Try to have those Level III conversations to allow the other to participate and contribute to the conversation. Work on keeping both of you focused on the executive brain. Keeping the conversation co-active does this.

Listen actively and take part in the conversation. Keep focused on your heart-brain to listen closely to what your intuition is telling you about the other’s reaction. Knowing this will help you respond appropriately, and you'll have a "confrontationally intelligent" conversation. Confrontation wasn't something I could face with courage until I understood what was happening in my brain to either stop me from asking for what I want or understanding what might be happening in the other person’s brain that may cause them to shut down. Now I do.

And I get what I want. Most of the time. (This was originally posted in this Forbes article.)


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