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Balancing Our Conversations With JUICE

In the Purposeful Questioning Masterclass, we introduced the idea of "purposeful listening." Being able to engage in purposeful listening is at least if not more important than the questions we ask. It means listening in a way that’s compassionate, connected, and present—in other words, not listening to hear, but to understand.

Within a meaningful and fulfilling conversation, there is always some give and take. Ideas are shared and absorbed; opinions are considered but may also be challenged; and usually, something is always either learned or discovered. So it all comes down to the balance between the people who engage in this verbal connection.

But is there a way we can maximize the potential benefits of a good conversation for all the parties involved? Is there a formula for achieving this balance?

Actually, there is.

If we want to achieve a true sense of balance in our conversations with others, we can turn to the healing power of JUICE. 

How JUICE Works Its Magic

JUICE is an acronym for:

  • Judgement

  • Understanding

  • Intention

  • Contemplation

  • Empathy

These areas culminate into a formula for mastering the art of speaking and listening for healthy, meaningful communication with others.

Think of a recent time in which an interaction you had with someone was particularly strained. Perhaps you heard a viewpoint you didn't agree with or a comment you took strong exception to. Can you recall what you were feeling in those moments? How did you react? Looking back on the interaction now, what do you think you could have handled differently?

As Wayne Dyer once said, when the time comes to choose between being kind and being right, which will you choose?

What's Going On There?

Think next about your true motivations in a discussion and what occurs cognitively when the conversational roads get rocky. What usually happens when people disagree with you?

In this study, the scientists involved used MRI technology to record the brain activity of forty subjects who each had "strong political views as they encountered arguments against their beliefs."

According to the research, when people disagree with us, the brain responds as if it were threatened. From the study:

"… People who were more resistant had greater activity in their amygdala and in the insular cortex. These areas of the brain are tied to emotion and decision-making … your opinions are controlled by the neural systems in your brain that manage emotion and your sense of self. Anything that challenges those beliefs is a threat to be taken seriously according to your brain."

The next thing that happens is the thinking brain retreats, and you go into cognitive "fight or flight" mode. We get amped up on stress hormones during heated conversations. All that does is cloud the brain's portions concerned with attention, energy, and memory, among others.

In other words, all that works during a tense disagreement are the most basic primal brain functions. The brain is then concerned with, and only with, dealing with the emergent threat directly in front of it. In this case, we must learn to see a simple difference of opinion rather than a frontal assault on our sense of self.

JUICE Up Your Conversations

This is where the characteristics of JUICE come into play. They help us to avoid uncomfortable or even regrettable moments in our conversations before they happen. By applying JUICE effectively, we train ourselves to speak tactfully and listen actively and compassionately.

All of this skill practice leads to more rewarding and satisfying conversations. Let's talk now about each part of JUICE briefly and look at some of the questions that will help us understand and internalize it.

Remember that just like every skill, JUICE doesn't solidify overnight. You'll practice it like any other until you master it. (And please, have compassion for yourself in the process!)

“Even if we don’t agree with someone, can we still understand why they may feel the way they do?”

J is for Judgement

Would you consider yourself to be a judgmental person? Nearly all of us are, to some degree, which is an entirely natural state of being rooted deeply in our self-preservation instincts. But are you judgemental to a point where you may need to consider reframing your own words? Taking a more neutral and accepting stance in a discussion can open doors of understanding and awareness you never thought possible.

Free will and our ability to make choices are part of what makes us human. It also gives us opportunities to make sound judgements. When it comes to conversation, especially if that conversation is to become genuinely dual or multi-sided, we must make the best decisions possible.

Questions to Ask Yourself

The questions we ask ourselves here are things like:

  • Am I engaging fully or already making judgments and thinking of how to respond?

  • Am I interrupting, offering or thinking of solutions?

  • Can I imagine how the speaker feels, picking up on subtle hints and nonverbal cues to understand the emotions involved?

  • Am I maintaining appropriate eye contact?

  • Do my non-verbal cues encourage them to continue? (nod, make noises, not fidgeting)

  • Am I only hearing words and analysing them from my perspective? 

  • Do I disagree with what this person is saying? How strongly and why?

  • Can I disagree with them while still respecting their freedom of thought?

  • What are the consequences if I can't?

  • If I can't, what must change within me to make this possible?

U is for Understanding

Dr. Stephen R. Covey reminds us to "seek first to understand, then to be understood" with good reason. As far as habits for strengthening interpersonal relationships go, this idea tops his list.

Let's be honest here—at some point, we all want others to see things our way. Our convictions and opinions are part of our very identities. To believe in something strongly enough is to rest in your seat of power and influence in the world. So the big question here is, even if we don't agree with someone, can we still understand why they may feel the way they do?

“Taking a more neutral and accepting stance in a discussion can open doors of understanding and awareness you never thought possible.”

There's a saying to this effect: most people don't listen but wait for their turn to speak. In modern society, we often get Covey's advice backward and seek to be understood first. We pretend to listen, we nod our heads, and we vocalize our apparent agreement while only hearing selectively and scanning for our window of opportunity to speak up.

Part of this is that we are also formulating questions and responses, which is fair. Still, the goal here is to enter a conversation with the intent of understanding another's position. Try focusing on this and then letting the reactions and questions come naturally after you've entirely absorbed the message. It might surprise how much richer the interaction becomes.

Questions to Ask Yourself

The questions we ask ourselves here are things like:

  • Can I summarize accurately what is being said to me?

  • What do I need to have repeated or clarified?

  • Is there anything that is confusing me?

  • What clarifying questions can I ask to ensure this person feels understood?

I is for Intention

Why do we converse with people? To establish bonds, share ideas, explore and understand opinions, and connect through both intellect and emotion? Yes. How about spreading misinformation, suppressing contrasting views, and manipulating others? Sadly, also yes.

A useful tool here is the expression of conversational intent. This is about making sure your conversation partner understands the big picture of what the talk is about. The bigger the conversation, the more critical this step becomes.

Here are some examples of introducing conversational intent:

  • "Hi, Steve. I need to ask for your help with ______. Got a minute to talk about it?"

  • "Maria, do you have a minute? Right now, I'd like to talk to you about ______. Is that OK?"

  • "Well, sit down for a minute, and let me tell you what happened ..."

(Source: https://newconversations.net/)

Questions to Ask Yourself

Every genuine interaction has some purpose. Think about the goals you have in any conversation and if that conversation could easily be a text or an email. Ask yourself: 

  • Why am I giving my energy to this conversation?

  • What do I hope to come away with? What are the benefits?

  • Am I saying what I'm saying to harm or suppress another person?

  • What do I sense is the motivation for the other person?

  • Is there a better way, time, or place to say this?

C is for Contemplation

To contemplate something means to observe or ruminate on something thoughtfully for an extended period of time. When it comes to engaging in healthy conversation, contemplation involves truly reflecting on what is being said, its implications and causes, and choosing the most considered way to respond.

Contemplation is a crucial element in proactively speaking and listening. In the article How to Listen With Compassion in the Classroom, Martha Caldwell talks about seven habits we use to connect to each other with genuine awareness and solicitude. When we evaluate these alongside the acts of both considering deeply and profoundly before action or response, Caldwell's principles adhere well to the contemplative part of JUICE.

Caldwell's principles for active listening can foster listening skills for building strong relationships and healthy, compassionate communities. They are:

  1. Be present: Pay full attention to words, expressions, body language, and even the silence between words. 

  2. Listening is enough: A response isn't always needed—or wanted. 

  3. Respond with acceptance: Genuine interest and heartfelt concern indicate that we'll receive a speaker's words without judgment. 

  4. Conflict is part of the experience: When people are honest, conflict can arise. If handled properly, it's a catalyst for beneficial change. 

  5. Ask questions: Authentic questions show a desire to learn more rather than reinforce preconceived notions.

  6. Be gentle: Deep listening involves compassion for oneself and others.

  7. Embrace candidness: It takes courage for people to put themselves out there and share things that can often be painful or sensitive. Honour that courage in the other person.

Questions to Ask Yourself

Mastering the contemplative element of JUICE means internalizing these questions to ensure you're reflecting and pondering another's words effectively: 

  • What is this person really saying to me?

  • How is it relevant to the conversation?

  • Am I hearing facts or is their line of conversation largely subjective? Does this matter?

  • What are the feelings and emotions behind the words?

  • Why is this important to the person speaking?

  • Are they presenting facts or views that I may not have thought of before?

  • How can this help me understand this person's position better?

  • What can I learn from what this person is saying?

E is for Empathy

A feeling accompanies every viewpoint and opinion. Whether we wear it on our sleeve or keep it on the down-low, it's there. Empathy means being able to recognize and share another's feelings about something. It's about acceptance and allowance more than anything else. In other words, as Paul McCartney sang, let it be.

Agreement and consent aren't necessary here. The object of empathizing in interaction is more about resting in the shared comfort of realizing that one's feelings matter and are valid, regardless of where they originate from. “For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is let it rain,” said Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who tries to tell you how you are feeling? It can be frustrating and belittling at best. At worst, you can begin to doubt your feelings once they are minimized by someone else. But dictating the feelings of another person isn't empathy—it's undercover verbal abuse.

Questions to Ask Yourself

Whenever possible, we must allow those we interact with to feel what they feel, even if it seems extreme or unreasonable. We can no more discern the sum of another's experiences than we can predict the weather. Perhaps that's an apt comparison since human feeling is as complex and unpredictable as the weather itself.

Ponder these questions and perhaps find a way to inject the appropriate ones delicately into the conversation:

  • What is happening with the emotions of the person I'm listening to?

  • Does this person want something from me or someone else? If so, what is it?

  • How can I identify with this person's pain?

  • How is it keeping this person from healing?

  • What are they finding most overwhelming?

  • How can I help? Is action necessary or is simply listening good enough?

  • How can I express my concern without interfering with their person process of feeling?

  • How can I make this a meaningful experience?

A Final Word About JUICE

Hopefully, this has given you a helpful set of tools wrapped in a fun, memorable acronym that you can begin to apply in your conversations. Remember that forming any new habit takes time and patience, so go slow.

Begin by practising one letter at a time if you like, or use different aspects of JUICE according to the conversation you're in. No matter what, this approach is sure to help you become a better communicator and listener over time.

After all, JUICE is good for everyone.