The Leader’s Treasure Map in Navigating Business Cultures

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How many times have you wondered whether the person you were talking with really grasped the meaning of your message as well as its intent? What was your response? Did you summarize your point again with the hope that this time they would get your message? Do you look for validation that you’ve been heard correctly? What does it mean when people just politely listen, say nothing, and gently nod their heads while you speak? The answer? It depends on the environment in which the person was culturized.

In this global workforce with intertwined business relationships, the most effective and successful leaders will be culturally savvy. First, they will understand their cultural bias and the culture of those with whom they work. Second, the best leaders will modify their style to bridge these cultural gaps. Although technology will continue to shape the business landscape, those who understand how to successfully influence people across cultures will be valued and highly sought after by companies.

Early in my career, I experienced being part of American business teams that left negotiations with an Asian companies either questioning how well the meeting went or being overly confident in the outcome. Why the uncertainty? We typically viewed and interpreted the outcome through our own cultural lenses. Only when we returned home did we learn we hadn’t made as much progress as we thought. How can a team or even an experienced business person successfully navigate these international waters?

The answer lies in reading the treasure map of cultural behaviors, which Erin Meyer spoke about at the 2016 Global Leadership Summit (GLS). Meyer (2014) has studied business cultures and seen “the sad truth…that the vast majority of managers who conduct business internationally have little understanding about how culture is impacting their work” (Meyer, 2014, p. 10). Meyer concludes that without cultural literacy, your default position will be to judge or misjudge others through your own cultural lens and assume that differences, controversy, and misunderstandings are rooted in individual personalities. The truth? Cultural patterns of belief and behavior frequently impact our perceptions, mindset, and actions (Meyer, 2014).

In her book The Culture Map, Meyer defines the 8 scales that map the world’s cultures and their location on the continuum.

  • Communicating: low-context vs. high-context
  • Evaluating: direct negative feedback vs. indirect negative feedback
  • Persuading: principles-first vs. application-first
  • Leading: egalitarian vs. hierarchical
  • Deciding: consensual vs. top-down
  • Trusting: task-based vs. relationship-based
  • Disagreeing: confrontational vs. avoids confrontation
  • Scheduling: linear-time vs. flexible time
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Today we no longer fly to another country to experience different cultures, because diversity sits in the office next door. You may be an American supervisor of an ethnically diverse group, whose style reflects the United States Culture Map. Believing in treating everyone equally, you may be left confused when trying to coach each of your team members who come from China, Japan, Asia, and Europe. You may wonder whether your coaching is making any impact outside of your circle of American colleagues. Your coaching style is likely straightforward with specific concrete examples (low-context) to back up your feedback couched with soft qualifiers (slightly indirect feedback). You probably sandwich negative feedback between two positives. Your Dutch subordinate expects direct feedback, so he may likely misinterpret the degree and importance of your message as he expects you to be straight forward with any negative criticism. You may feel frustrated at his lack of effort and progress in affecting change. Perhaps, you may even start to stereotype Dutch behaviors based on repeated experiences with that ethnic culture. It’s not uncommon for people to routinely experience a clash or misunderstanding of cultures. If we learn about culture, suspend judgment, and build bridges between these cultures to facilitate trust, communication, and ideas, we would harness the potential of every team member.

Giving and receiving constructive feedback is a necessary component of business but sometimes riddled with insecurity for both the giver and receiver. How should constructive criticism be given and taken? How should feedback be delivered to get the best result? How much feedback is lost in translation? How do the words absolutely, strongly, kind of, and sort of play out when delivering criticism? The answer depends on the culturalization of the giver and receiver. Certain phrases and qualifiers have different meanings. Take for example a British colleague providing feedback to his Dutch counterpart. He says, “Please think about that some more,” implying “That’s a bad idea.” A Dutch or German colleague, who expects and is comfortable with direct constructive feedback, would likely interpret that as “It’s a good idea. Keep developing it.”

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In business etiquette classes, we are instructed on the ceremonies which demonstrate respect. In Japanese business culture, it’s customary to exchange small gifts with visitors and present a business card with both hands towards the receiver who respectfully reads it upon presentation versus immediately putting it into his portfolio. Americans easily embrace these cultural mannerisms but fail to realize how communication and language may be used differently.

Frequently in my coaching practice, I reference scales from 1 to 10. Regardless of the attribute measured, when an issue between two people is greater than 2 units apart, the two parties will need concentrated effort to resolve differences. Meyer (2014) confirms my informal conclusion when she states that “what matters is not the absolute position of either culture on the scale but rather the relative position of the two cultures” (p. 22). Relative positioning determines how people will view each other.

Meyer’s (2014) first piece of advice when interacting with someone from another culture is to “listen before you speak and learn before you act” (p. 27). Understand how culture will impact the conversation. For example, the United States is the lowest context culture with Japan having the highest context in its communication. In simplest terms, the people culturized in America tend to communicate literally and explicitly. They value clarity and place accountability of the intended message on the communicator to accurately convey the meaning of the message (Meyer, 2014). On the other extreme, Asian cultures often convey messages implicitly which requires the listener to read between the lines. Good communication is layered and subtle, and the responsibility of its accurate transmission is shared between the sender and receiver. The Japanese have been culturalized over many generations to become skilled at “reading the atmosphere.”

Education can further exacerbate the cultural divide, by moving people more towards the extreme version of their dominant culture. Highly educated Americans are taught and encouraged to communicate more effectively in writing and orally and to take more responsibility for the messages they send. American leaders are typically rewarded for having and implementing the answers within their organizations. On the other hand, Japanese leaders are listening more to what is meant as opposed to what is said. In my informal survey of American and Japanese business people attending a meeting, I find that at least 75% of the words spoken are by the Americans and 25% by the Japanese. The Japanese typically spend more time reflecting and reading body language and other non-verbal clues. When they do speak, it typically includes more clarifying questions. Frequently, my American colleagues have misinterpreted the meaning of a nod, assuming their Japanese counterparts are in agreement. In truth, head nodding is more confirmation of being heard.

In past decades, businesses have relied on preference tests such as Myers Brigg Type Indicator (MBTI) as the source of team-building activities to help team members communicate, process ideas, handle data, and make decisions. These business teams were more homogenized in culture, but today’s global business environment demands everyone to be equipped with a new set of skills that embrace diversity in the workplace. Meyer (2014) delves deep into communication and evaluating and also takes the reader through a journey to explore other important cultural attributes. Understanding, respecting, and working with the deep roots of various cultures will forge and strengthen relationships and performance. Culturally diverse teams will continue to populate the business landscape and every leader would benefit from learning more about cultural diversity and its impact on business success.

Reference

Meyer, E. (2014). The culture map: Breaking through the invisible boundaries of global business.   New York, NY: Published Affairs. ISBN: 978-1-61039-250-1.


About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a business and life coach with an extensive background in business development and leadership. She partners with clients to help them develop and grow successful businesses. She also works with individuals to create their life plans and build better relationships by identifying and living out their personal values, enhancing their skills and competencies, and holding them accountable to execute their defined goals. Sandra welcomes comments, questions, and feedback at sandra.s.dillon@hotmail.com.

The Power of And, But, and Because

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Some words pack a powerful punch in how they affect the message from all the other words strung together before or after them. What are these words? They’re usually the conjunctions like and, but, and or. For Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers who grew up on Schoolhouse Rock, you probably have a little song playing in your head right now.

Conjunction Junction, what’s their function?
I got “and”, “but”, and “or”,
They’ll get you pretty far.

Although our body language and tone of voice are major influencers in how we communicate, choices in simple words can change the message. You should be sensitive to use the right one for the right intent. My favorite conjunctions are and, but, and because, and each provides a very different message.

And is the connector that keeps the conversation going and the ideas building. You’ll see the masters of improv exclusively use this word to allow the following person to continue with the next idea. If frequency were an indication of people’s favorite conjuntion, I would guess it would be but. “I hear what you’re saying, but…..” or “I like your idea, but…” But is the perfect word to negate everything that was said before it. Sometimes I don’t think people even realize what that one little word does to the previous speaker. And then there’s the conjunction because.

Whereas and keeps the conversation going, and but invalidates the idea before it, because blends the power of the and with an assumption of action. What are your thoughts of each message?

  1. “I like your idea about forming a small task force to address the problems with the manufacturing process, but I think it’ll take too long to get all the people who have expertise in the same room at the same time.”
  2. “I like your idea about forming a small task force to address the problems with the manufacturing process, and we’ll need to consider how long it will take to get all the people who have expertise in the same room at the same time.”
  3. “I like your idea about forming a small task force to address the problems with the manufacturing process, because we have the expertise. We’ll need to get all these people in the same room at the same time.”

Most people don’t pay much attention to their conjunctions. How about you? Hopefully, you might be more selective in your next conversation.


About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional life coach with an extensive background in leadership and business consulting. She has a passion to help people be the hero of their own life stories. She administers assessments, designs and facilitates workshops, and coaches both individuals and teams. You can learn more about Sandra or engage her as your coach by reaching out to her at coach.sandra.dillon@gmail.com or by visiting her website at www.shinecrossings.com

COVID-19: What have you learned? What will you change? How can I help?

damir-spanic-cMe5lwooOig-unsplashCOVID-19 has been a kick in the butt for many businesses. Some are not sure if they will make it. Others have tightened down the hatches and believe they can ride out the storm. Others are actively pursuing new opportunities to thrive on the other side. Remember the old saying: “Never let a crisis go to waste.”

Whether it’s survive or thrive, every company should ask where they rank on the continuum of flexible versus agile. What’s the difference? Flexibility means adapting to circumstances beyond your control. On the other hand, companies who are agile proactively change to take advantage of opportunities on the other side.  Where is your company on the continuum of flexible versus agile?

If you’re not sure, I have a few questions that can start the conversation:

  1. Describe what the new normal looks like on the other side of COVID for your industry and market?
  2. Based on your answer to the first question, what changes do you need to make now to set you up for success for the new normal?

As an example, some businesses believe virtual meetings will be a greater part of the new normal. How well do your people communicate in the virtual realm? Communicating virtually has specific nuances you need to be aware of and manage to ensure that it’s as powerful in person as it is across a computer connection. Communication is 55% body language, 38% tone of voice, and 7% words. How you set up your environment for a visual call can also makes a huge difference in how you’re perceived. Do your people know what changes they need to make to shine?

Leadership coaching and consulting can help prepare your team to be the best version of themselves for the new normal. Let’s have a conversation on what post-COVID might look like for your business, so we can set you and your team up for success.


About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach with an extensive background in leadership and business consulting. She administers DISC® and Myers-Briggs/MBTI® testing, designs and facilitates workshops, and coaches both individuals and teams. She has a passion to help people be the best versions of themselves. You can learn more about Sandra or engage her as your coach by reaching out to her at coach.sandra.dillon@gmail.com or by visiting her website at www.shinecrossings.com

 

3 Things Leaders Should Do More of During a Crisis

antenna-cw-cj_nFa14-unsplashCommunicate, communicate, and communicate. Best practice communication tactics leave people feeling better as opposed to worse. COVID-19 has the general population fear levels at all-time highs: fear of getting the virus, losing a job, plummeting 401Ks, and not being allowed to visit loved ones who are dying or sick. Leaders, who focus on empathetic listening, truth-telling, and more frequent communication during times of crisis, will win over the hearts and minds of the people they lead.

Empathetic Listening

Crisis creates fear which clouds our thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors. Fear makes people feel like they’re alone. The best leaders step up their empathetic listening towards those who are fearful. They don’t rationalize or try to convince them that it’s not that bad or that they’ll land on their feet after the crisis passes. They focus on just listening and validating what the person is feeling and experiencing in the moment.

Truth Telling

What’s worse than dealing with the fears of the known created by a crisis? It’s fear of the unknown. Even if the news isn’t favorable, people would rather deal with the truth of bad news versus not having the information. Leaders respect and honor people by being truthful even if the news isn’t pleasant to deliver or receive.

Communication Frequency

The best leaders make it a priority to overly communicate to their teams. When people are feeling overwhelmed and unsure, communication helps to ease their anxiety, even if the message is “no new news.” That extra time that leaders take to check-in with their teams, even if to share nothing new, boosts feelings of care and connection.

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About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach with an extensive background in leadership and business consulting. She administers DISC® and Myers-Briggs/MBTI® testing, designs and facilitates workshops, and coaches both individuals and teams. She has a passion to help people be the best versions of themselves. You can learn more about Sandra or engage her as your coach by reaching out to coach.sandra.dillon@gmail.com or visiting her website at www.shinecrossings.com

What’s Your Listening Score?

mimi-thian-lp1AKIUV3yo-unsplashListening is a powerful communication skill that affects your leadership influence and relationships. When you listen well, people notice. Why? Because most people don’t practice good listening. Instead, they typically focus on being heard.

Ribbers and Waringa (2015) define seven levels of listening which are:

  1. Continually interrupts people, impatient when listening, wants to hear him- or herself talk, doesn’t get to the point easily
  2. Restrains him- or herself enough to listen but with visible signs of impatience, prefers to talk about own experiences
  3. Listens to others, polite and observes standard conversational etiquette, reactive conversational partner, doesn’t actively draw out others to talk
  4. Lets others talk, asks for clarifications, prefers to keep conversations about business
  5. Always takes the time to willingly listen, comes across as interested in the other person, gives appropriate feedback
  6. Gets people talking, exchanges information, listens well to others while giving natural responses, asks questions to get to the heart of the subject
  7. Expresses sensitivity to the needs of others, makes time for people, asks questions to clarify, gives feedback, shows involvement

We can’t always listen at a level seven, and frankly, not all conversations require a seven. However, we should be holistically aware of where we tend to operate and decide whether we need to focus on improving our listening skill. These listening definitions can also help us identify which conversations require which level of listening in order to improve the outcome for both speaker and listener. With a defined scale as reference, it’s easier to target and measure improvement.

Reference

Ribbers, A., & Waringa, A. (2015). E-Coaching: Theory and Practice for a New Online Approach to Coaching. New York, NY: Routledge.


About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach with an extensive background in leadership and business consulting. She administers DISC® and Myers-Briggs/MBTI® testing, designs and facilitates workshops, and coaches both individuals and teams. She has a passion to help people be the best versions of themselves. You can learn more about Sandra or engage her as your coach by reaching out to her at coach.sandra.dillon@gmail.com or visiting her website at www.shinecrossings.com

Global Leadership Summit 2018: How to Get Comfortable with Difficult Conversations

joshua-ness--bEZ_OfWu3Y-unsplashSheila Heen said it well at Global Leadership Summit when she said, “Your leadership is defined by your ability to have difficult conversations.” How many times do you shy away from conflict, rationalize away what you want to say, or intentionally avoid the tough talk? You are not alone if you said anything but never. Most people struggle with difficult conversations, but the most respected leaders get comfortable in saying things that need to be said.

Heen describes the types of conversations that challenge us: (1) standing up for oneself, (2) disappointing someone, (3) working across cultures, (4) telling a boss they may be wrong, and (5) helping peers with their self-awareness. When we’re in a difficult conversation, three questions drive the direction of our story are:

  • Who’s right?
  • Who’s fault is it?
  • Why is this person acting this way?

Difficult conversations are challenging, because our identity is at stake, and we may not know what to do with our feelings. How can we approach difficult conversations? Heen suggests shelving those three questions and finding answers to:

  • What is this conversation about? Why do we see this so differently?
  • What did we each contribute to the situation?
  • How can I separate intentions from impact? What impact am I worried about?

As a leadership coach, I frequently work with clients on communication strategies and conflict resolution skills. I encourage people to understand the other person’s worldview and values that drive decision-making. People are not irrational; they make decisions based on what makes sense within their worldview.


About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach with an extensive background in leadership and business coaching. She works with individuals and businesses as well as designs and facilitates workshops to empower people. She has a passion to help people be the best versions of themselves. You can learn more about Sandra or engage her as your coach by reaching out to her at sandra.s.dillon@hotmail.com or by visiting her website at www.shinecrossings.com

Are You Listening? What Did You Hear?

Attentively Listening


Effective listening is one of the most demanding components of any communication exchange, because it involves a mental process that requires self-discipline and demands tremendous amounts of focused energy. As a life coach, my profession requires that I demonstrate a high proficiency in effective listening, and I must admit, I have to continually work at maintaining this skill. Without continued practice, it is easy to slip into old and more comfortable listening habits. The good news? Effective listening is not an innate skill but one that everyone can learn and master.

What is effective listening?  Burley-Allen (1995) defines specific elements of effective listening which include (1) taking in information while remaining empathetic and nonjudgmental, (2) acknowledging the speaker in a way that invites the conversation to continue, and (3) providing encouraging feedback that carries the other person’s idea one step further. Effective listening is harder than you might think to practice, because it involves not just tuning into the other person but tuning into oneself. Have you had the chance to listen carefully to what you said and how you said it? Have you ever recorded one of your serious or passionate conversations? If you have, were you surprised in how you came across in the conversation? Try it! Next time you plan to have an important discussion, consider using effective listening techniques, record your conversation, and review the recording. The feedback may surprise you, while providing you with valuable information in self-awareness and self-reflection.

Reference

Burley-Allen, M. (1995). Listening: The Forgotten Skill (2nd ed.). New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.


144-2 - CopyAbout the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach, consultant, and mentor with an extensive background in business development, leadership, and ministry which provides her with the experience, relational skills, and proven processes to move individuals, couples, and leaders to higher levels of personal awareness, effectiveness, and goal achievement.  She coaches in a variety of areas including life purpose and plans, business, finances, and premarital/marriage.  Email: sandra.s.dillon@hotmail.com

 

11 Things Emotionally Intelligent People Say at Work

words out of mouthDr. Travis Bradberry published the article The 11 Things Smart People Won’t Say (2015), where he listed and described why smart people refrain from using certain phrases in the workplace, because these words diminish others’ perception of them. Unfortunately, many employees may not be aware of the negative impact of these sentences or whether they are using them in conversation around the office. For those who may have overlooked this article, I list those words that can undermine the most knowledgeable, talented, and productive employees who use them.

  • It’s not fair.
  • This is the way it’s always been done.
  • No problem.
  • I think …/This may be a silly idea …/I’m going to ask a stupid question.
  • This will only take a minute.
  • I’ll try.
  • He’s lazy/incompetent/a jerk.
  • That’s not in my job description.
  • It’s not my fault.
  • I can’t.
  • I hate this job.

words out of mouth 2Some of these phrases are obvious in their abrasiveness; whereas, others are subtle. A response of “No problem,” as opposed to a kindly “You’re welcome,” or “My pleasure,” commonly heard from a Chick-Fil-A associate, can be more of an annoyance than a negative message. In my opinion, this list of “do-nots” are not what smart people practice but what emotionally intelligent people embrace, as I know several Mensa candidates with low emotional intelligence who continually choose from this list. Emotionally steady and astute employees carefully choose their words. Dr. Bradberry’s article begs the question, “What are the 11 things emotionally intellegient employees say at work?” What words do they use that promote creative thinking, problem-solving, accountability, and team-building?

Below would be my suggested words to frame conversation that builds a positive perception of your attitude and behaviors and empowers the organization.

  • How could we have changed the outcome?
  • What new way can we try?
  • You’re welcome!
  • Based on…observation, data, past experiences…I found…
  • When can I get [insert number] uninterrupted minutes of your time?
  • I will.
  • How can we make him/her more successful?
  • What can I do to help?
  • I take responsibility for…
  • I can.
  • What I like about my job is…

Where do your word choices land on the continuum of powerfully engaging to poorly enacted? Many factors, including stress and cultural influence, dictated where we are on this continuum in any moment. When stress is high, the filter between thoughts and words is usually thin. Stress does not absolve us of the responsibility to choose words wisely, and awareness of the powerful effect of certain words is the first step towards better choices that will show your personal best.

Reference

Bradberry, T. (2015). Eleven things smart people won’t say.  Retrieved from https://www.inc.com/travis-bradberry/11-things-smart-people-won-t-say.html


HE21118Davis_07-medAbout the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach, consultant, and mentor with an extensive background in business development, leadership, and ministry which provides her with the experience, relational skills, and proven processes to move individuals, couples, and leaders to higher levels of personal awareness, effectiveness, and goal achievement.  She coaches in a variety of areas including life purpose and plans, business, finances, and premarital/marriage.  

How to Avoid Walking on Egg Shells in Your Relationship?

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Have you found yourself avoiding conversations you really want to have with your spouse for fear of starting an argument? Is timing for those difficult conversations not right? Or does the timing never seem right? Based on my conversations with others as a life coach, many couples shy away from initiating heart-felt and meaningful conversations because of the emotional repercussions.

Some dating, engaged, and married relationships have developed unhealthy behavior patterns, where one or both suffer from what I commonly refer to as “walking on egg shells” syndrome. Couples fail to realize the long-term damage that avoided conversations, verbal eruptions, and hurt feelings have on their relationship. Empowered with awareness, communication strategies, and practice, any couple can turn “walking on egg shells” into “walking on sunshine.”

This coach has walked on egg shells too!

Is it achievable that couples can have no filters and fully express themselves to their partner? Yes! Life coaches commonly have walked in their client’s footsteps. I’ve crushed a few egg shells in my life walk. With my first husband, my conversations were limited to daily tasks, childcare, and surface level talk to avoid arguments. With my second and last husband, I’m free to initiate meaningful and difficulty subjects at any time without concern. I’m not suggesting you need to change spouses to have healthier conversations, but both spouses need to commit to choose mindsets and communication approaches that honor themselves, spouse, and their marriage.

Conflict should be viewed as an invitation to create greater intimacy, where both can be vulnerable, open, and honest. How successful couples are in sustaining a happy and fun-filled marriage will be grounded in their willingness to deal with conflict as well as manage emotions and relationship expectations. How does a couple get from “walking on egg shells” to feeling respected, accepted, and loved? It starts with first understanding what you are really arguing about.

What was that argument really about?

“We seem to always fight about small, unimportant stuff!” and “Our issues never seem to get resolved!” are two common complaints expressed by couples. What’s really going on? For many couples the underlying dynamics are twofold.

First, most couples are often unaware that triggering events are masking unresolved issues that may reflect differences in views, beliefs, and expectations regarding money, sex, communication, religion, recreation, careers, parenting, and household chores. As an example, arguments over a clothing purchase may be unresolved conflict over how each spouse views the role of money. The wife may be a saver, who typically shops discount stores, because she favors financial security. She becomes anxious and argumentative with her status-driven husband who purchases a $100 designer tie. They have not discovered their personal drivers affecting their views of money stewardship or found a compromise position. The argument may be centered around an expensive tie purchase, but the fundamental issue is each spouse’s view around the use of money in their marriage.


Any couple can turn “walking on egg shells” into “walking on sunshine”


On a deeper level, hidden issues focus on needs such as acceptance, safety, love, respect and control.  In another example, despite his wife’s repeated request to put the toilet seat down after use, the husband continues to forget.  He does not understand why this is so important to his wife, especially since he has no issue with lifting it up.  His lack of consideration results in an emotionally charged response, “If you only cared enough, I wouldn’t have to remind you all the time to put the toilet seat down!” The event that triggers the argument is the position of the toilet seat; however, the underlying issue that may need to be discussed in how well the wife feels loved and respected by her husband.


Constructively address the underlying conflict of an argument


Second, many couples find themselves having the same arguments over and over, because they never resolve the relationship need. Some couples may understand the relationship issue acting at the heart of their arguments but lack the skills to resolve it. These couples fall into a behavior pattern where they avoid discussing the issue during times of peace, leaving it to get raised during a crisis event, where it becomes difficult to resolve. Markham, Stanley, and Blumberg (2010) found that most couples avoid being proactive in bringing up the issues when situations are calm, because they want to enjoy the good times. Hence, couples typically enter a cycle of petty, emotionally-charged arguments.

How do you start having those difficult conversations?

Some couples find themselves in an anxious pattern of avoiding conflict, which ultimately leads to “walking on eggshells.”  Markham et al. (2010) found that marriage health suffers when spouses do not feel relaxed around their partners.  How can you get back on track so you are having those important conversations, getting the issues on the table, and resolving conflict? Consider adopting these attitudes and communication strategies for your next conversation.

  • Schedule a relaxed time to talk about hidden issues in your relationship where desires, expectations, feelings, and needs can be shared, and you can feel truly known.
  • Self-reflect on what you need from your partner and marriage to feel loved and accepted. Be prepared to ask for what you want without the expectation of receiving it.
  • Be receptive and non-judgmental in hearing authentic messages from your partner. Your goal should be to learn, understand, and respect your spouse’s point of view, even if you do not agree with it.
  • Listen not only to your spouse’s words but the underlying feelings. Refrain from defending yourself and your position, but instead paraphrase back to your partner what you heard, because it affirms your spouse and confirms your understanding.
  • Own your feelings. Attacks start with “You make me mad when you leave your dirty socks on the floor, and I have to pick them up” and ownership starts with “I feel overwhelmed when I come from work and still see your dirty socks laying on the floor.”
  • Approach the conversation with the intention of glorifying the marriage and not winning your position. Husband and wife are teammates who sacrifice and support each other for the benefit of the marriage.
  • Adjust your expectations. Reflect on whether your expectations of your spouse are realistic given his/her personality, strengths, and weaknesses. What adjustments are you willing to make?  What are your negotiables and non-negotiables?
  • Do not bite off more than you can chew. Start small by setting a simple agenda for one topic you will talk through thoroughly. Take turns explaining how each of you have contributed to the problem, share your perceptions, facts, and feelings. Do not try to solve the issue until both parties have fully expressed themselves.
  • Brainstorm options on how to solve the problem. Compromise or in some instances concede to the desires of your partner. One wife I know said, “I let him win when it’s really important to him, and he lets me win when it’s important to me.” Although marriage conversations are not about creating winners and losers, her point illustrates the gracious giving that one spouse can give to the other.
  • Get specific with examples. If you share how you would feel more loved from your spouse, provide examples. Instead of saying, “I want more surprises to feel loved by you,” instead plant the seed, “I would feel more loved if you surprised me twice a year by sending me flowers at the office.”
  • Agree on specific actions. Take turns summarizing what you agreed to, and ideally, commit those actions to paper to avoid future disagreements caused by faulty memories and misinterpretations.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Adopting new communication behaviors does not come without challenges as you try to break old behaviors. Do not give up, because the health of your marriage is at stake. If needed, call a time out if you feel yourself getting too emotionally charged. A time out includes agreement on when you will reconvene, whether that be 15 minutes or 2 hours. A time out is not designed to avoid the conversation but to give space for emotions to calm, so both spouses can continue speaking and listening respectfully.

Give yourself and your spouse plenty of patience and grace

As you work through each of your hidden relationship issues, keep in mind this is a journey. The conversation may not ultimately resolve an issue, but conflict can be managed just by letting the issue be fully and respectfully aired. What’s important is for both spouses to feel truly heard and able to authentically express themselves, their worldviews and feelings within the safety of their marriage without the pressure to agree.  As two individuals, you may agree to disagree.

Embracing the right attitudes and approaches will help a husband and wife manage the inevitable conflict that every couple has without damaging the relationship.  Avoidance or emotionally charged conflict can harm the marriage, because hurtful words or avoidance can lead spouses to redirect their time and energy away from their partner toward other relationships with children, friends, extended family, careers and hobbies to get their needs met. Friendship is one of the strongest bonds for a happy marriage and pursuing that friendship is critical to a healthy marriage.

Marriage friendship is co-constructed in healthy conversation

Take your marriage to a higher level

If you and your spouse have worked through most of your conflict issues, you may now want to take your conversations to the next level by creating a marriage mission. Marriage commitment builds when a couple takes a long-term view of their relationship. A marriage mission statement can help define the purpose of your marriage and guide it by defining activities, behaviors, and goals that you live out as a couple.

Marriage mission statements can also help couples with decision-making, because decisions should align with the marriage purpose. If you decide to create a marriage mission statement, you can post it on the refrigerator as a daily reminder on why you both are in it together.

Reference

Markman, H., Stanley, S., & Blumberg, S. (2010). Fighting for your marriage. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


144-2 - CopyAbout the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach, consultant, and mentor with an extensive background in business development, leadership, and ministry which provides her with the experience, relational skills, and proven processes to move individuals, couples, and leaders to higher levels of personal awareness, effectiveness, and goal achievement.  She coaches in a variety of areas including life purpose and plans, business, finances, and premarital/marriage.