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We dissolve stuck and rewrite patterns. We apply radical playfulness to life (when we feel like it!), embarking on internal adventures (credo of Safety First). We have a fake band called Solved By Cake. We build invisible sanctuaries, invent words and worlds, breathe awe and wonder.

We are not impressed by monsters. Except when we are. We explore the connections between internal territories and surrounding environment to learn what marvelously supportive delicious space feels like, and how to take exquisite care of ourselves. We transform things.* We glow wild.**

* For example: Desire, fear, worry, pain-and-trauma, boundaries, that problematic word which rhymes with flaweductivity.

** Fair warning: Self-fluency has been known to lead to extremely subversive behavior, including treasuring yourself unconditionally, unapologetically taking up space, experiencing outrageously improbable levels of self-acceptance, and general rejoicing in aliveness.


Awkward conversations (and a wacky exercise)

Let’s pretend that you have to have an awkward, uncomfortable conversation or confrontation or something else that begins with “con” coming up.

And I’ll just go ahead and assume that you’re totally not looking forward to it.

Anyway, even if that’s not what’s going on for you right now, it will be the case at some point, because relationships between people? Sometimes hard and messy.

Just play along with me.

Because I promised you yesterday that today I’d teach an extremely cool and useful technique a wacky exercise to help with that. And now I’m going to.

The exercise: Finding your common ground.

This is what people who are slightly wackier than me would call an alignment exercise. The idea is that you consciously create a sense of the possibility of getting into alignment with the person you’re in conflict with, so that you can empathize with him (or her).

And — equally important — so you can have some empathy with yourself.

The basic idea behind it:

If you’re going to confront someone about something (even if this conversation is only going to happen in your head), you really want to get to the point where you can do it out of kindness … and not out of aggravation and anger.

Because otherwise it’s not going to go well. Your communication is just going to get all knotted up.

What you want to do — symbolically — is to establish some common ground between you.

It works like this:

Step 1. You brainstorm as many things as possible that you and this person have in common. At least ten, but the more the better.


Step 3. You say them out loud. I like to do this part pretty casually and conversationally … I’ll try and demonstrate that in the example thing (yes, there will be an example thing).

Step 4. You keep at Step #3 until Something Cool happens.

If Something Cool doesn’t happen you throw the world’s biggest temper tantrum repeat Step #3 while tapping gently but firmly with two fingers at the spot directly underneath your nose and above your mouth.

But I promised an example thing for how this can work…

The scenario: confronting a friend.

In yesterday’s anonymous Ask Havi, we were dealing with an extremely awkward situation.

This woman’s friend was leaving inappropriately self-promotional borderline-spammy comments on all their friends’ blogs.

She (the woman who wrote to me) wanted to know how to approach this thing, and Selma and I gave her a number of suggestions about non-confrontational things she could do.

But let’s say she actually wants to sit down and have the awkward, uncomfortable conversation. The best way to approach this is by first using our alignment technique to diffuse the awkward, uncomfortable bits.

The alignment technique makes this likely-to-be-horrible potential conversation a. bearable, and b. doable.

Here’s what it looks like …

Okay, imagine that I am speaking for this woman. This is what the alignment exercise might look like. Obviously I could have some of the details wrong, but it’s your exercise, so you can put the right ones in.

Let’s see …

  • My friend and I both write blogs.
  • My friend started her business to help people. I write my blog to help people. That’s something we have in common.
  • We both really care about making a difference in people’s lives even if we have different ways of showing it or going about it.
  • We both are kind of struggling with our businesses right now.
  • We both want positive attention for what we’re doing and aren’t really always sure how to get it.
  • We both feel insecure sometimes about what we’re doing.
  • My friend wants to feel safe and loved. I want to feel safe and loved. That’s something else we have in common.

Even though I’m still feeling upset with her, I’m realizing that she’s probably doing what she’s doing because she doesn’t know what to do. I have that feeling all the time.

Even though I have different ideas of how to deal with that feeling, I’m recognizing that she’s really hurting and confused — and it’s getting easier for me to identify with that.

I think I’d really like to just be able to give her some loving attention right now. And I’d like to be receiving some loving attention of my own. Maybe both of these things are possible.

Ahhhhhhhhh … well done.

I don’t know if you felt it, but Something Cool just happened.

In fact, I could feel it while I was writing this exercise.

A softening. A sense of spaciousness. As if some tiny little tight place in my heart just got some more breathing room.

And this isn’t even my problem.

That’s the power of the alignment exercise. And I’ll let you in on a little secret. Sometimes when you do the alignment exercise you don’t actually have to go ahead and have the conversation because weirdness occurs and stuff just sorts itself out.

Yes, you are right. That is bizarre.

But (for example) once when I was having this huge conflict with a yoga studio because they wouldn’t pay me for a workshop I’d taught there …

I did this exercise. It took about ten minutes because I was feeling so angry and hurt. And when I was done, I felt like I was really ready to have a peaceful conversation with their accounting department.

And then I went to look up their phone number online, and found an email from their programs guy saying they’d realized they were completely in the wrong and a check was in the mail.


Take that, weird cosmic alignment thing!

So you’re going to try it, right?

The brave participants in my last Habits Detective training course all did this exercise a ton of times after I forced them to. With ridiculously fantastic results.

Of course I always forget how awesome it is myself, until my duck is like, Dude. Do the alignment exercise. It will make everything better.

So this is basically as much a reminder to me as it is to you. Go do it.

And report back. Because Selma and I would love to know how it went.

16 Responses to Awkward conversations (and a wacky exercise)

  1. David
    Twitter: sparkyfirepants

    I will definitely report back because I will definitely be partaking of this wackiness.

    Give me a wacky exercise and an excuse to do it. I can’t wait ’til I have a difficult conversation or some conflict coming up!


    That didn’t sound right…

    Davids last blog post..We don’t need no steenking paper!

  2. Havi Brooks
    Twitter: havi

    @David – I’ll send you some of mine if you’re in a hurry for an awkward encounter! :)

    Whoops. That didn’t sound right either. You know what I mean.

    It’s amazing how freeing it is for me to remember (each time) that wait, I don’t actually have to be this in-a-tizzy over potential awkwardness. But each time it’s like I’ve forgotten it and am understanding it again for the first time, you know?

  3. Nathan says:

    If Selma is talking to you, sweetie, you should spend more time curled up with your gentleman friend ;-)

    I’ll be using this exercise this week, I think.

    Nathans last blog post..the one with all the joy

  4. Hi Havi. :)

    I’ve been lurking around recently, trying to soak in some of your non-sucky vibes, and I gotta say, so far so good!

    This sounds like a great exercise for me recently, and I’ll definitely try it out. Heck, probably have a chance today!



    Nicole Brunets last blog post..Gary: 2002

  5. Karen says:

    Havi, I’m a little confused… Since everything is about me, ;-) I’m assuming your emphasis on “non-confrontational” was in reference to my comment to yesterday’s post? My question is this: Is a face-to-face conversation/request considered confrontational? Has simple communication deteriorated that much? I hope my post doesn’t come across as confrontational. I certainly don’t mean it to. That being said, this exercise today seems to be a very articulate definition of empathy. It is beautifully put. I suppose empathy is a lost art in many places. In my part of Canada, people are still pretty kind towards each other. That is, unless it’s a “discussion” about ATVs or hunting.

  6. Havi Brooks
    Twitter: havi

    @Karen – It’s not about you, sweetie. :)

    I’ve already covered the “it’s actually never about you” theme … but just for a reminder: you can read this, this, and this.

    Sorry that you thought it was about you.

    The non-confrontational thing was a reference to the email of the woman who wrote to me. She wanted a way to solve this problem she was having of this other woman over-promoting herself … but she didn’t know how to deal with it.

    I could have given her “here’s how to have the talk” techniques, but since my sense was that this was freaking her out, I decided to place the emphasis on “here’s how to take care of yourself in a potentially uncomfortable situation” techniques.

    A face-to-face conversation need not necessarily be confrontational. I think I would agree with you on that. In this particular case — given how anxious this woman was feeling about her situation — it didn’t seem like she would be able to view any conversation as something other than a confrontation.

    So the most helpful thing seemed like it would be to offer an alternative. Something that could help people feel equally comfortable having or not having a conversation that scared them.

    Ideally we’d all be bringing more empathy into everything. Man, it’s hard though. That sometimes seems like the biggest challenge there is.

    Thanks for your insights on communication and kindness.

  7. Karen says:

    Thanks, Havi. I get it. And, I will read the parts about me. :-)

  8. Carole says:

    What a wonderful technique–I almost can’t wait to try it! (Almost, because I never look forward to awkwardness that makes me want to confront somebody, therefore requiring me to calm and center….)

    I’ve never tried finding things in common before a confrontation, but I DO regularly try to remind myself of things that I like about someone when I get upset with them. When I remember to do it, it really helps; when I forget, I stay upset much longer.

    Caroles last blog post..Record Any Audio on Your Computer, Including Streaming Audio from the Internet

  9. Pace says:

    YES! I’ve been doing the conversation version of this for about three years, and it is AMAZING. It turns conflict into communication. And the idea of doing it as an alignment technique instead of a communication technique is brilliant! So I guess what I’m trying to say is, TRY THIS! It really works!

    Paces last blog post..Hurry makes worry and haste makes… paste?

  10. Karl Staib - Work Happy Now
    Twitter: partybizconnect

    What a great way to gain perspective on a difficult situation. My spouse and I don’t always see eye to eye on our life and this exercise would be perfect for me. I’m going to try it next time I want to say something from a place of love, not because I just want my way.

    I’m the youngest and like having my way. So is my wife. We are learning to give in to each other when the other one seems to need the compassion.

    Karl Staib – Work Happy Nows last blog post..55 Tips to Make Work More Fun

  11. Diana Maus says:

    What good timing this is for me. I have been preparing to have exactly this sort of conversation with someone soon and was relying on your reference to non-violent communication to handle it. This post makes the whole thing even more comfortable. Thank you.

  12. Julianna
    Twitter: Julianna01

    Sweet heaven on earth, I love what you write, how you write and the scope of what you write.

    You have a newly found fan in me.

    Thanks so much for being you.

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