Wednesday, June 10, 2015

How Conversations Turn into Conflict - Judgment and Drama Words

During a recent workshop, I facilitated a conversation between two participants that started to become heated. The two participants, “Ann” and “Bill”, had different interpretations of the material being presented. The conversation between the two was going rather well until Ann said, “That is preposterous.” Bill was visibly offended by the comment and the rest of the group gasped.

Since we were talking about communication in relationships, I used this as an opportunity to highlight how certain words can escalate conflict in relationships. I have often highlighted these types of words in workshops and have affectionately called them, “drama words”.

In another session, the topic of drama words came up again and this group asked me to put together a list of drama words for them. Of course I said, “yes!”… thinking… “how fun!” LOL!

Well, this was actually a real challenge! There seems to be an endless list of possibilities. So instead, I thought I would come up with a general rule as to when drama words were happening that would be more useful than a long list of words. 

Drama words appear with and are linked to words that hold judgment. The level of judgment – if high – creates defensiveness in the listener and leads to “drama” in the conversation.

For example:

A statement would be: “You are late”.

Judgment would be: “You are always late”.

Drama (and judgment) would be: “You are ridiculously late”.

Stating facts in difficult conversations is the easiest way to minimize conflict. An individual may not like a fact like – you are late… but if they are, it is hard to argue.  Except there could be some disagreement about what late actually means. Some people think late means being less than 15 minutes early and some think showing up within an hour is on time depending on the type of meeting it is. Being clear about what late means and the impact it has on the situation will help minimize the conflict that could arise. For example,

“You were 10 minutes late today for the meeting, we have an expectation within our group to be here by the stated meeting start time. When you are late, it makes everyone else late for appointments afterwards”.

When you add judgment words, the person’s self-worth gets involved and he or she will feel a need to defend themselves. This leads to an escalation in the conflict that may or may not have been intended by the speaker leading to defensiveness on both parties in the conversation.

Words like always, never, or continuously give people plausible deniability and a case to defend themselves… “I am not always late”. Which to leads to, “I know you are not always late,” then to, “So, why are you saying I am always late?” - etcetera.

Being specific about when they have been late helps manage this and brings it back to fact… i.e. “You have been late for the last three meetings.”

When you add a drama word (more extreme judgment words), people are often offended and then the conversation becomes about the offense of the speaker instead of the initial purpose of the comment; creating more conflict than is necessary. “You are ridiculously late.” This type of statement can offend the listener. He or she hears, “You are ridiculous.” Avoiding judgment and drama words should help to minimize the other person’s need to defend their self-worth and lead to less conflict.

And, I also thought it would be useful for people to have a few examples of words that can create drama in conversations. Here is a small list of drama words that I have put together so far: 


absurd         alarmed        appalled        crazy           disgusted        foolish
horrified      laughable     ludicrous       nauseated    offended        preposterous
revolted      ridiculous     sickened        silly             surprised        stupid

When you add judgment words, the person's self-worth gets involved and he or she will feel a need to defend themselves.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Stop the Hustle for Worthiness

Brené Brown and Oprah Winfrey it just doesn’t get any better. 

This week Oprah featured Brené on her LifeClass program. A.M.A.Z.I.N.G.

Brené’s four myths of vulnerability set the foundation:

  1. Myth 1: “Vulnerability is weakness” – most of us were raised with this mantra.  “Suck it up”, “buckle down”, “put up your armour”.  Without vulnerability, there can be no innovation, no creativity in organizations or in individuals. We need to be okay with failing and with taking risks.
  2. Myth 2: “I don’t do vulnerability” – it is much easier to TELL people to be vulnerable than to BE vulnerable.  Brené’s research affirms that the door to wholehearted living is through connection and authenticity, based on vulnerability.  Show up and be messy.
  3. Myth 3: “Vulnerability is letting it all hang out” – just because we share, or over-share (think Facebook) it may not actually be about trust, intimacy and connection, perhaps a façade?  Share deeply with those who have earned the right to hear our stories, who are also in the arena doing brave deeds.
  4. Myth 4: “We can go it alone” – it is only through our human connection that we can be vulnerable.  We can’t raise children to be more vulnerable or open-hearted than we are – identify who are your true friends vs. just people you smile at.  Empathy is the antidote to shame and true friends get you.


More amazing insights:

  • Vulnerability is:  saying I love you first, opening the kimono, admitting that you don’t have the answer, asking for help
Where do you need to be more vulnerable in your life?
  • Daring Greatly is to be both courageous and vulnerable at the same time, daily
Where are your opportunities to be more courageous and vulnerable?
  • Vulnerability is not about winning or losing, it is about showing up – in the “arena”, getting dusty and being brave
What is your “arena” – that place where you need to play big?
  • Daring Greatly is not getting to the end of our lives and asking “what if I would have shown up”?
What are the consequences for you of not showing up?


The show is to be posted on Oprah’s LifeClass link soon – check it out here: 

Also Brené will be hosting a 6-week e-course through LifeClass starting in October, details here:


 “Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be; embrace who you are”.  
Brené Brown



Laurie Hillis is a Certified Daring Way Facilitator.  




Thursday, June 27, 2013

Waiting For ...



Sharon Wilson, my grade 12 teacher was insightful.  Her golden truth of life has stayed with me for many years.

“Laurie you will always be waiting for something in your life – to finish grade 12, university, to get married, buy your first home, to have children, grand children, to support others, to watch your parents pass .. and eventually to watch your own passing… make sure you enjoy today because life passes quickly”.

It may sound like motherhood and apple pie advice yet for me her wisdom rings as true today as it did on our final day of high school.  Waiting, anticipation, balancing the polarity of the journey with the destination, and slowing down enough to relish each moment all so important.

A few recent examples from my life reminded me of her quote:

1.     Unplanned Events:


Last week while teaching with my dear colleague and owner of this blog site, Larry Hulsmans, we were stranded in Banff due to the terrible flooding in the Bow Valley and Calgary. With 20 learners and guests we had to figure a new route home rather than a 1.5 hour drive back to Calgary.  What was required?  Calmness under pressure, taking the time to enjoy the 6-hour drive west to Kelowna to fly home, and enjoying building new relationships with our fellow travellers.  Emotional intelligence at its finest hour.

We were all waiting for our safe arrivals home to family and friends.

2.     Joyful Events:


May-June were a busy couple of months for me, as I watched my god daughter Samantha graduate from medical school, get married and move to Calgary – all within a week of each other.  My daughter-in-law gave birth to a wonderful 8 lb. 6 oz. angel, Grayson.  Both of these events required minimal waiting on my part but truly the journey these young women took, well enough said.

We were all waiting for these joyous events and new beginnings.

3.     Vulnerable Events:


Tomorrow I start a 3-day learning event here in San Antonio with the infamous Brené Brown.  If you are not familiar with her work I suggest you check out her TedX from 2012 which has been viewed by more than 2 million people -- BrenéBrene Brown TedX or her website for some fine reading here, Brene Brown Website.

Her research on shame, vulnerability and fear is the focus of my learning for the next year.  With a mixture of anticipation, joy, fear, vulnerability and excitement, I sit on the edge of a precipice and notice my own range of emotions. I am staying present.  I am ready to do my own “work", mindful to define vulnerability as strength, not weakness.  I am feeling joyful and vulnerable with the unplanned events to unfold.


My intention is to use this learning to also support my clients in their journeys -- to help them understand two powerful Brené messages that hold us back: “never good enough or who do you think you are”

I am waiting for ... my learning ... curiously, what are you waiting for?

Laurie Hillis


“Vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage; it is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change – Dare Greatly” 
Brené Brown


Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Search for Meaning


The Search for Meaning


There is so much talk about the search for meaning in our lives. “What is your purpose?” or “Discover your meaning”, could be titles for hundreds of books and articles in print today. Unfortunately, there seems to be some very negative behaviours that accompany the pursuit of meaning and happiness.

Many find in sex and economics the meaning of life and the reason of it all. The consequence of this is that the goal of life for many has become a relief of tension.”

I very rarely see people who are happy and searching for the meaning of life. They are usually lost for focus, see no clear path for their future, disillusioned by daily life, seeking to make more of their world than what it appears, or unsure of themselves and their abilities. They seem to want more and are not even sure what more looks like.

The problem for us is not that our desires are satisfied or not. The problem is how do we know what we desire?”

As a workplace coach, teacher, and parent, I often see behaviours from others in their pursuit of meaning that I find can be harmful to the self. I have seen many teens and young adults who are struggling for meaning, experiment with nihilism, atheism, god, drugs, or multiple relationships. Although many may argue for or against any of these possibilities as good or bad behaviours in and of themselves and I don’t really have a problem with people being or participating in any of the above subject areas, unfortunately, unhappiness usually stems from these “experimentations”. The search - the possibilities; make sureness impossible.

The chances of finding out what’s really going on in the universe are so remote, the only thing to do is hang the sense of it and keep yourself occupied.”

I did a little research on the subject of the meaning of life today. There is no consensus, but there are some themes. Religion helps to define the meaning of life for many; governments help ie. the “Pursuit of Happiness”; education helps. But what most authors seem to think is that meaning in life is tied to an internal awareness of some kind that is not initially obvious to the self. When individuals turn outward for the meaning of life, it evades them. When they search inward, it can evade them as well. We need to create our meaning.

There is not one big cosmic meaning for all; there is, only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person.”


In fact, many authors will suggest that when we search for the meaning of life, we are actually not living. We are missing the point… missing life’s glory.

Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.”


How is meaning in life then achieved? Sainte-Beuve said it best when he said,

Each man must look to himself to teach him the meaning of life. It is not something discovered: it is something molded.”


The real search for meaning may be how people live their lives. How people choose to show up in the day-to-day living of their lives.

Whatever we are, whatever we make of ourselves, is all we will ever have – and that, in its profound simplicity, is the meaning of life.”

What leads to meaning is the investment people make in what they want to value and accomplish in their time here on earth.

“I believe that I am not responsible for the meaningfulness or meaninglessness of life, but that I am responsible for what I do with the life I've got.”


Living with purpose may be the meaning of life. Grab a goal, live a life you can respect, and involve yourself with what you value.

You will have fewer regrets in life if you start focusing and taking responsibility for where you are and where you want to be.”

How have you been living with purpose? What do you respect from your experiences? How can you do more of what you value?

“There are essentially two questions in life - a spiritual question and a material question. The spiritual question is 'Who am I?' The material question is 'What am I to do with my life?' One leads to the other.”



[1] http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/meaning-of-life?auto_login_attempted=true&page=3