Losing Dignity in a High Stakes Conversation

During a challenging conversation, we often fight hammer and tongs to make our point, to be heard or make ourselves understood. But why? What is it that drives this behaviour that we feel we need to act so forcefully? When we feel we are losing our dignity in the conversation. For everyone, the process of losing dignity has its own meaning in a conversation when the stakes for us our high.

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Have you ever sat in an important meeting, vociferously arguing your point, raising the tempo at every objection, hanging onto your last shred of dignity to feel heard and your point acknowledged?

So what does losing dignity in a High Stakes conversation mean? When you fear so much is resting on the outcome.

To all of us it, signifies something different.  However, there is one commonality.  It represents losing something that is incredibly important. Something that we would go to any length to hold onto if our life depended on it.  

This might be a fear of losing control of a conversation or our emotions.  Losing an argument and being concerned our reputation will be tarnished. Losing the ability to articulate ourselves well and appearing stupid. Losing face and walking away with our integrity intact.  Losing our voice and the opportunity of being heard.

Why Do We Strive to Maintain Dignity?

The meaning we attribute to ‘losing dignity’ is driven by a specific value we place in high esteem.  This might be for example, respect, reputation, fairness, family, belonging, or inclusion.  When this value feels threatened or challenged, we react, lash out and will do whatever we feel we need to do to protect it or defend it. It is this perceived threat that drives our behaviours and actions.

What Did ‘Losing Dignity’ Mean for Harry and Meghan?

To put this into some kind of context, let’s examine by way of example, how this played out for Harry and Meghan?  While I do not wish to comment on semantics of whether they were right or wrong to do the Oprah interview, I would like to explore what might have driven them to participate in it, knowing the explosive outcome it would create.

With such shiny, commercial new opportunities awaiting them, it seems unlikely money was the motivator.  So what else could have forced their hand to speak out. What did they hope to achieve from it?  They must have surely realised it would stir a hornets’ nest and impact relationships that were clearly already very tenuous. 

In their eyes, moving to the US seemed their only option as their ‘terms’ for remaining in Royal Service were not accepted. However, despite their actions, they still hoped to maintain some of their Royal duties.  Perhaps keeping the door open to return one day?  Who knows?

When this clearly wasn’t forthcoming, relations started to become more fractured than they already were.  Compounded by the reasons they chose to move in the first place, it appears for them, their ‘lost dignity’ during negotiations manifested as a failure to be heard, accepted, respected, included, valued or recognized.

Did they seek ‘justice’ to set the record straight?  Was it driven by the lack of ‘fairness’ in how they had been treated and portrayed disingenuously? (in their opinion) Did they feel they no longer ‘belonged’, they lost their identity and felt alienated? Was it driven by retaliation?  The fact that they were so shocked and hurt by racist comments and wanted to inflict the same pain and humiliation on certain members of the Royal Family too? Was it motivated by their need for ‘recognition’ and ‘significance’ because they wanted to maintain some of their Royal duties? Or did it boil down to a perception of betrayal of ‘trust’ and ‘loyalty’ that pushed them over the top?

So What Now?

There are still many unanswered questions. Too many difficult and uncomfortable conversations.  Too many words said that can’t be unsaid. A few too many holes in their story which has cast an element of doubt on the veracity of their version of events.

While it appears (at time of writing) the Queen has taken matters into her own hands, the interview so far seems to have created a greater chasm between Prince William and Prince Charles. Was that the intention?

One thing is for certain, right now, it will take a concerted effort to rebuild those crumbling bridges if this is in fact what all concerned want. Too much damage has been done. 

Plainly put, perhaps the real reason they forged ahead with the interview was they felt they had lost their voice, their power, their status and their dignity during those challenging conversations!


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LinkedIn: http://linkedin.com/in/nicoleposnermediator

For more helpful tips with communication and conflict issues, why not download my guide: How to Have Difficult Leadership Conversations with Courage, Confidence and Compassion during a Crisis’.


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