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Dr. Lisa Leit’s Top 10 Disarming Questions to Break Through Gridlock


Think about the last time you were in the hot seat. Remember the rush of anxiety and desperation you felt preparing yourself for the conflict ahead. Unfortunately, conflict can be so overwhelming that you lose the ability to effectively communicate. Dr. Lisa Leit, PhD, MCC, an expert in human relations with 20-plus years as a coach and motivational speaker and as the founder of the Happy Whole Human (HWH) Institute of Holistic Wellness, believes that this has to do with our biology, which is why we are naturally triggered when conflict arises. Dr. Leit explains the connection between neuroscience and conflict. “Our natural instinct is to protect ourselves, but this can be counterproductive in modern culture. Luckily, we can change our brain chemistry to help us improve and be our best selves and better members of the community.”

Our first instincts are not always correct.That’s why Dr. Leit created top ten disarming questions to use in these gridlock-type situations. Dr. Leit explains, “My mission is to bring data and humanity together to foster meaningful, measurable, and lasting improvements in individual and organizational health in 45 days.” The difference between Dr. Leit’s approach and that of other self-help programs is that she has designed a program that is evidence-based and data-driven. She has worked with a variety of individuals, couples, families, and leadership teams of organizations to overcome obstacles and live happy, whole lives. The validated HWH Self-Assessment program is based on her doctoral research on interpersonal psychology.

When dealing with conflict, Dr. Leit suggests using a goal-oriented approach that will provide a different outcome rather than going with your initial instincts that might be self-sabotaging. 

She suggests that you ask yourself, “What do I want the end result to be? What do I want to come out of this conversation? Do I want to have a real conversation with real resolution?” Dr. Leit further explains, “Focusing on the other person and coming from a place of genuine curiosity and listening is just as important as asking the right questions.” To disarm someone is to give them the opportunity to be vulnerable with you. This automatically changes your position in the conversation – you are no longer in the hot seat. 

“By asking these questions you can give yourself some separation from your feelings and take the time to really listen and understand another person’s perspective.” Dr. Leit’s hope is that you will develop the skill of listening with detachment, so that you can come to your own conclusions and realizations. “It becomes difficult to communicate when the stakes are high. We become defensive and create even more obstacles for ourselves,” Dr. Leit explains. “Overcoming unconscious narcissistic ego patterns can help people discover their true identity. Our first instinct is to protect the ego, so it just makes sense that if we want different results, we need to try a different approach by moving past our first instinct. By asking one or several of  these questions during a conflict, you can free yourself from gridlock and quickly move forward.”

1. How important is it to you that you and I resolve this issue together?

Dr. Leit believes the answer to this question will speak volumes. It’s likely the person you’re having the conflict with is trying to communicate to you that resolving this issue is very

important, but perhaps you’re not listening. Vice versa, the person you’re having the conflict with might not be willing to have a productive conversation at that moment, and you might consider returning to the discussion at a better time. “I have seen this approach defuse many conflicts,” Dr. Leit says. “Answering this question together can humanize both of you to the other and break down barriers.”

2. How do you think we could move forward in a productive direction?

One point that Dr. Leit emphasizes when she presents her workshops to CEOs and other executives is to remember to give the other people the time and space they need to answer your questions. This shows that you value their opinion. “I have found that this is crucial when leaders need to come together and resolve a time-sensitive issue in particular,” she says. “I stress to my workshop’s participants that this will actually end up saving them time in the end.”

3. In this situation, what is it that can be changed?

Dr. Leit states, “Accepting that certain situations can never be changed can be very difficult for some people. Take, for example, a mother who was verbally abusive to her daughter years ago. The mother is remorseful and genuinely wants a good relationship with her daughter and is trying to build a stronger relationship with her. That is, of course, a highly complex issue, but if these two are to have a chance at a healthy relationship, they will have to acknowledge that some things about their relationship will never change. Anything that happened in the past cannot be undone. They might, however, be able to change how they communicate with each other and forge a new path together.”

4. What needs to happen and in what way?

This is a great question to get into the other person’s head and really understand what they see happening and how they see the situation resolving. Dr. Leit says that couples tend to have unspoken expectations about how they see certain scenarios playing out. She explains, “We think what needs to be done is so obvious that we don’t see the need to explain it. The truth of the matter is that we need to give the other person a chance to communicate what they think needs to happen and in what way.”

5. What are our best options?

Again, this brings the focus back to the issue at hand and sounds optimistic and hopeful. Dr. Leit explains, “I’ve seen this work with individuals and with teams in the workplace. This is what collaboration sounds like. You are working together to brainstorm options and create a common goal. This is how innovation happens in the workplace.”

6. What do you think we need to shift to figure this out together?

Dr. Leit’s goal is to promote healthy relationships and a sense of community. Dr. Leit explains, “To create a community there needs to be some level of trust and interdependence. This is essentially how groups of people function as a team: they figure things out together. Sometimes, it’s just one thing that needs to be changed to get a project moving forward and for the team to be successful. Again, this is a real time saver for companies.” 

7. What needs to change for you to feel successful? 

Dr. Leit explains, “You want to know how you can best support this person. Be prepared for an honest answer. This can go two ways. If you really want to earn someone’s trust, actually listen to what they say and try to accommodate them as best you can. “I’ve seen employers disregard this kind of employee feedback which unfortunately leads to great losses for the company.”

8. What would be the impact on us if we don’t figure this out?

Considering the future and the detriment to the relationship is a great way to avoid having it actually happen. Hopefully, it motivates both parties to put their egos aside and have a real conversation. 

9. What, if anything, do you think I might be missing?

Dr. Leit explains, “Having the other person verbalize what they think is missing from the relationship or situation is a great way for you to evaluate whether or not you think you can  compensate for this missing piece. Sometimes relationships provide us with something that has always been missing in our lives. For instance, you’re someone that doesn’t like to make plans, you like to go with the flow, you just live a more spontaneous life, but your partner is someone that craves stability. You have to decide if this relationship is worth changing for.”

10. How would you suggest I approach this?

Again, if you’re at a loss for words or just completely frustrated with the situation, you should ask for suggestions. Dr. Leit reiterates the biggest part of this experiment or series of questions is to  stay calm and to really consider what the other person is saying, and then you can evaluate your options and move forward using an approach that makes sense to both parties. 

Next time you feel helpless or stuck in gridlock at work or in your personal life,try asking these ten open-ended questions from a real place of detachment and curiosity and watch as magical new collaborative pathways emerge. Dr. Leit ends by saying, “No matter what, you will learn a great deal about the fascinating and complex person you are speaking with. This is an interdependent world. We need each other and we need real communication for our relationships to flourish.”

Photo by pranabyjonesie 

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