A women checked into the hospital to have a tonsillectomy and the surgical team erroneously removed a portion of her foot. WHAT? Apparently, 98,000 hospital deaths each year stem from human error. Partly because health care professionals are afraid to speak their mind. Every industry and organization and family has this problem. In the case of the woman with a missing foot, no less than seven people wondered why the surgeon was working on the foot, but they said nothing. Dialog is a necessity!
Everybody benefits from free flowing dialog. When opinions vary, emotions run hot and the stakes are high, it’s easy to cut off the lines of communication. Our brains are hard-wired to fight or flee. This is an automatic response that doesn’t require any processing time. When you step off a curb and realize an 18-wheeler is barreling down the street, you automatically jump back onto the side walk. Or when someone grabs your purse, you immediately fight back. This hard-wiring is a life saver. Unfortunately, when our emotions start to crank up, our brains start to shut down.
The best way to keep our brain engaged is to step out of the content of the conversation and ask ourselves what we really want. What do I really want for myself here? What do I want for the other person? What do I want for this relationship? If I keep my focus on what’s being said, I might lose sight of where I genuinely want to end up after this conversation. Labeling people or ideas, controlling the direction of the decisions, being sarcastic, or sugarcoating our responses, immediately cuts off any free flow of dialog. As soon as the conversation becomes about defending dignity, everyone loses.
When everyone feels safe, we can talk about almost anything. Restoring safety may involve slowing things down, making apologies, reassuring the other person of what we don’t want and what we do want. “I really don’t want you to feel cut off here. I absolutely want to hear what you have to say.” “I don’t want you to think I have a separate agenda. I really do want to move forward together.” Recognizing that our mutual purpose or respect is at risk can help us stop and reconnect.
The way we handle any exchange with the people around us, impacts how they will interact with us in the future. What would it take for us to not cut off the foot, when what’s really needed is a tonsillectomy?