With This Exercise, Talk Your Way to Your Best Self

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If you’re not being perceived the way you’d like, consider this: Do your words match the person you think you are?

They don’t always. Your ideas might be bold – intriguing even – but before voicing those ideas, you’ve sanded off their edges. Maybe you choose words that are safe or less profound because you’re afraid of rejection or damaging relationships. So, instead of using communicating your idea or even your real self, you avoid challenge entirely. Your words become less profound and all around less meaningful.

When you’ll conflict with others’ opinions, it’s natural to want to step back to protect yourself from harm. Perhaps being bold once even cost you points from an authority figure and you have been gun-shy ever since.

Related: Why You Can't Shake Off That Last Argument

However, you need to align your aspirations with your reality. Conversations are one tool to make that happen. Through conversation, you can let go of the fear of conflict, and embrace the power of co-creating – of sharing what’s on your mind with candor and caring. Through conversational intelligence, you can let go of the past, transform the present and create the future with others, moving from a state of protection to a state of partnering.

Here is one conversational ritual you can experiment with to practice sharing and discovering your best you for the New Year.

Partnering Exercise: Win-Win

This is an exercise you can do on your own or with a partner or team to practice sharing what’s on your mind with candor and caring.

Step 1: Imagine someone with whom you want to have a win-win conversation or ask that person to partner with you for this exercise. Prime yourself for the conversation through journaling to practice speaking your voice. Write out what you want from others and what you want for yourself. Share your findings with your partner.

Step 2: What’s ‘success’ for this conversation? Imagine how quality conversation with this person might be like, including what would be said and how it would make you both feel. Write those qualities down and share them with your partner if you have one.
Step 3: Think about what you really like about your conversations with this person and jot those down, too. If you have a partner, share these thoughts as well.

Step 4: Consider what you need more of, less of, or what you’d like to do to elevate the quality of the conversation and quality of your relationship. To spark ideas, write down what you respect about this person and what you need from this person. Don’t forget to share this with your partner as well, should you have one.

Step 5: Picture the future. You’ll want to better understand your relationship in the long-term to make it easier for you both to say what’s on your minds. This enables you to recognize strengths in others and to prime each other for higher levels of partnering and co-creating. Again, share these thoughts.

Related: Leaders: It's Time to Fix the Way You Listen

Why it works: The Power of Co-creation
Priming yourself for having a quality conversation builds greater understanding and trust for creating openness, bonding, connectivity, and empathy for one another. By stepping into one another’s shoes and listening without judgment, you trigger the prefrontal cortex (the executive brain) to access higher-level capacities, including how to handle gaps between reality and aspirations; how to access new thinking; and how to move into infinite thinking together for co-creating new possibilities.

Unless we activate this part of the brain, we fall back into our lower brain where we activate our positional thinking and fight for our vested interests. This stimulates fear responses, causing us to argue or to step back and speak less. After we experience co-creative conversations, we become more comfortable with transparency, candor and truth-telling, and more open to sharing and supporting one another in the achievement of our dreams and aspirations.

Co-creative dynamics create bonding experiences, resulting in an oxytocin rush. Oxytocin is a bonding neurotransmitter that activates higher levels of connectivity and engagement and opens up new conversations about “what ifs” that can change our life. We imagine new things that we could do together, fostering a higher level of risk taking and innovation.

Co-creative teams open the “infinite space” which our minds need to be free to connect with others in new ways. By co-creating a common language using the win-win exercise, we ensure that we build a shared meaning for success. When people are certain about what key terms mean, interpretations, drama, and negative storytelling give way to a sense of shared success and bonding that is evergreen in shaping the new relationships of the team in the future. Consider this as you approach your next hard conversation and may you have a productive 2015.