Boys talking into tin cans, playing the phone game.Meta Conversations

In a meta-conversation, we talk about having the conversation before actually talking about the topic. We have a very short meta-conversation in each of the consent steps in the Clearing Held Feelings and Stories process. “Is this a good time for you to hear my held feeling? The topic is the dishes and it’s a three on a one to ten scale. I think it will take about 20 minutes.” This is a meta-conversation because if the person says no, not now, you may continue to negotiate about the conversation before you have it. “If not now, then when is a good time?” “I can talk about the dishes tomorrow night while we’re making dinner. Does that work for you?” “Yes.”

In order to avoid drive-by conversations we have meta-conversations. Drive-by conversations are when we start talking about a subject without asking if it’s a good time. “Hey the other night when you left the dishes in the sink, I did them because we had guests coming the next morning. I wonder if you are willing to consider doing your dishes at night before going to bed as a general rule? I’d rather not have to clean up after you.”

The listener might be receptive and able to roll with the conversation, or they might be doing something that requires focus, and you just interrupted something they care about doing well. A conversation that might be well-received at an agreed-upon time, may become contentious because of non-negotiated timing. In this example, we have addressed multiple meta-subjects: time, topic, intensity, and duration.

Trust Formula from Nancy Shanteau's Trust-Building Worksheet. Illustrations by Patrick Stein.

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