Ana Paula: Welcome to the Wake Up, Wild Heart virtual summit. My name is Ana Paula, and I’m a holistic wellness teacher and transformational coach. I am so excited to introduce to you the incredibly brilliant and kind Doctor Neha Sangwan. Doctor Neha is the CEO and founder of Intuitive Intelligence, an internal medical physician, a communication expert, the author of TalkRx, and the creator of the i-Five Conversation. Dr. Neha, it is a pleasure to have you here with us today.
Doctor Neha: Great to be here.
Ana Paula: Thank you. Before we jump right in, would you be able to tell our audience a little bit about the i-Five Conversation?
Doctor Neha: Hello everybody and welcome. I went through my life realizing that we never learned something really basic, which is how do we actually frame a conversation in order to get what we want? I think we kind of just watch people older than us around the dinner table and our siblings. We watch what works, and we watch what doesn’t work. Then we start to pattern what we think will work.
We also learn patterns about what to do when things don’t work, whether we get angry, yell, shut down, or cry. In my 30s, I realized that a lot of frustration in my patients was because they didn’t know how to communicate. Usually a physical health crisis has everybody dropping everything [else in life] and only focusing on their physical health crisis. The other interesting thing is that health crises often bring to clarity what you value and what’s most important in your life. Once we stabilized them, I started to help teach them how to communicate.
The I-Five Conversation that you asked about was born through that. It’s pretty simple, and it can apply to conversations that you want to be efficient and direct. It can also apply to when you have a challenging conversation and you aren’t sure how to frame it.
There are five parts to it, hence the name i-Five. I tag [five areas of] the body as well, because your communication is also linked to your health. The first component of the i-Five Conversation is body, so I tag the top of the body and outline the body. This part is about data. It’s about how did you get the information that you need to have a conversation with somebody? Did you see Joe whispering to Joan in the meeting? What was the data that you saw, heard, tasted, touched, or smelled? You used your senses to pick up data, so that’s your body picking up external cues.
Now, with your body, there are also the internal cues. When you see Joe leaning over and whispering to Joan in a meeting or at the dinner table, you might be thinking to yourself, Oh, my God. I think they’re talking about me. Your heart might start racing. Your stomach might start turning. You’re receiving internal data as well as the external cues. That’s all from your body—the first component of the i-Five Conversation.
Once you pick up those cues, inside and outside of you, the second part of the i-Five Conversation is your thoughts. I tag the forehead. What’s the story you make up to piece that together? I already gave you an example. Oh, my God. I think they might be talking about me. I call it the story you make up about the data inside and outside your body. Another thought you might make up about the same scenario is to think, I wonder if they’re planning a surprise party for Mom. The story you make up could also be about somebody else. Oh, they are so rude. Can you believe? Did anyone not teach them manners? What is going on here? A whole variety of thoughts can come from the data your body is picking up. So step #1 is about your body and data—data outside, data inside of you. Step #2: piece it together—our mind loves to make sense of what’s happening in the world. It will try to piece together what you have just observed.
Depending on which of those stories you decide to believe, you move to step three. I tag the heart here to represent emotions. Let’s say I decide to believe the story that Joe and Joan are talking about me, saying something negative about me. What emotion might that generate? I might be annoyed. I might be worried. I might become paranoid.
Now, let’s say I pick up the same data, but believe a different story. I think they might be planning a surprise party for mom. I might feel anticipation, excitement, or joy. Same data, but the story I pieced together might lead me to a different emotion because I chose to believe a different thought. The third story could be: Gosh, they are so rude. Did their parents not teach them manners? If I choose to believe that story, I will then move into anger. Now, the best part of the third part of the i-Five conversation is about figuring out which of these stories is true. Which one’s true?
Ana Paula: You can’t really know.
Doctor Neha: We don’t know yet! But people cycle through all these emotions and waste all their energy. They run through anger and feeling surprised, excited, irritated and worried; meanwhile, they don’t even know what that data meant, because they haven’t had a conversation to get curious to ask.
So we’ve gone through body, thoughts, and emotions. Once you have put a story together and you’re feeling an emotion, that leads you to the fourth part in the i-Five Conversation. I tag my belly. Put your hand on your abdomen. It stands for what you want.
The fourth area is your wants, your desires. Usually, when you have an emotion in response to something or someone, you then want something. Maybe if I get angry, what I want is to be silent at dinner and not say a word for the rest of the evening. Maybe what I want to do is get up and leave, because I think they’re rude. If I think it’s a surprise party, maybe what I want is I want to be in on the surprise party. Depending on which story you believe, what emotion you’re experiencing, it now generates your wants and desires.
Last I tag the foot, which is action. The fifth part is about how you integrate your body, thoughts, emotions, and desires into your next conversation and the next move you make. By the way, I want you to know that a “move” you can make could be to not say anything. That’s action, too. You choose to speak or not to speak. That can be action as well.
Those are the five pieces of the i-Five Conversation: body, thoughts, emotions, desires, and action.
Ana Paula: Wonderful. Thank you so much. It’s like such a clear roadmap of just fluid conversation.
Doctor Neha: Well, we’ve been doing it ever since we were born, but we didn’t know.
Ana Paula: Doctor Neha, how does knowing what you want help you in a conversation?
Doctor Neha: How does knowing what you want help you in a conversation?
Ana Paula: I guess with number four and interpreting one’s desires.
Doctor Neha: If you don’t know what you want, then you don’t actually know how to steer what comes next. Let’s say I ask you to go to the movies and see Moonlight. I say, “Would you like to go see Moonlight this weekend?” and you say to me, “Yeah, I’d really like to go see it. I’m not sure. If I get out of work on time and I can get somebody to take care of the dog, then yeah, I could do it.” Okay. First of all, are we going to Moonlight together?
Ana Paula: No.
Doctor Neha: Not yet. You said, “Yeah, let’s go,” but then you told me there were these other things you might need to do in order to make that happen. This is where knowing what I want is so key. Let’s say it was the opening night of Moonlight. If I know that I want to see this movie on opening day, then I know that I need to ask another friend to go with me, right? Now, if what I want is to spend time with you because you’re my college friend and I haven’t seen you in a long time and I really want to connect to you, I would say something like this: “What if I come over and we both walk your dog. Sounds like you really want to make sure the dog is taken care of.” Then you say, “Yeah. The dog’s been sick, so I don’t like leaving her alone. Yeah, I was a little worried about that.”
If I know what I want (is going to see Moonlight the most important thing to me?) then I can direct my next action and my conversation clearly. But if I don’t know what I want, then I may take it all personally, and say something like, “You’d pick your dog over me?” It’s easy to go down this spiral. But if I know that spending time with you is what I want, I would have clarity in what I say next. I’ll know that, because I’ll know what I value about this experience. Does that make sense?
Ana Paula: Yes.
Doctor Neha: Not knowing what you want is an enormous problem in getting what you want. You think everybody else seems to get what they want, but you don’t get what you want. You’ve got to ask yourself, How clear am I on what I value? When I go into an exchange with somebody else, do I know what’s most important about that so I can navigate what comes next?
Ana Paula: Wow. Thank you. One more question: How can we create boundaries of communication when we tend to give too much to other people before taking care of our own needs?
Doctor Neha: This is really common, especially for women and mothers, and for people who are caregivers or in the healthcare field. Sometimes it’s fathers, too. First of all, when we are developing as little embryos, women develop more of something called oxytocin, which is a tend-and-befriend hormone. Men develop with more testosterone, which is a fight-or-flight.
So if a building is burning, or an emergency sets in, men might say, “Let’s get out of here,” and use their testosterone to get out. Women will do something like this: “Okay, does everybody have their coats? Is everybody together? Okay. Now, let’s all go together.” There’s this sense of community versus the hunter- gatherer, fight-and-flight of the way our ancestors helped with survival. So the first thing I want listeners to know is that caring about other people is in your biology-and it’s a good thing.
One thing to know, though, is that too much of anything becomes a weakness. Let me tell you what I mean by that. Basically when someone says, “Oh, you care too much,” or you start to notice your energy is draining while you’re trying to help others, what you’re doing becomes a weakness. It’s that mantra we hear in airplanes: “Put your oxygen mask on first before you help others.” Helping others is a good thing. When you do it at the expense of yourself, it becomes a weakness. Another way to say that is, “A weakness is just a strength overused.”
So when somebody gives you constructive feedback, think about this concept. For example, it’s part of your evaluation at work when someone is saying, “Hey, can I give you some feedback?” You’re thinking, Oh, no. However, when you understand that a weakness is just a strength overused, then when someone gives you feedback, you can ask yourself: “How can I pull that back a little bit so it becomes a strength again?”
Is it a good thing that you’re helping others?
Ana Paula: Yes.
Doctor Neha: Yes, it’s amazing that we think bigger than ourselves. When you do that so much that you are lost in it, it becomes a weakness, because you now are trying to help other people while you are drowning. How effective would you be in the ocean trying to rescue other people when you are drowning? The first step is to recognize that your desire to help is a strength. It’s just been overused-and you forgot about yourself.
A lot of times people say, “Well, that’s so mean. It’s mean to say no to other people. I can’t hurt other people and say no to them.” The problem is that you’re thinking about it the wrong way. You’re not saying no to other people. You’re saying yes to yourself. Some people have been raised to believe that that’s selfish-I actually think it’s self-F-U-L-L.
Ana Paula: Love it, yeah.
Doctor Neha: If you were driving a car from New York to California, could you do it if the tank were on empty? You’ve packed the car. You’ve packed food, but there’s no gas in the car. If there’s no gas in the car, everybody is staying exactly where they are. This is about filling your own tank. I want you to think about the times when you think it’s selfish and realize that, actually, you have to be self-full so that you can give from a place of genuine caring.
If you’re somebody who tends to want to give, give, give, give, give, and that’s how you feel full, let me tell you that I did it all the way to burnout as an internal medicine physician. Once I burned out, I end up becoming a liability to my own team and the people I was trying to help.
You asked me about boundaries, right? How do you draw boundaries? Once you get clear about the signals coming from inside and outside your body, the stories you’re making up, your emotions, and what you value, now you can go out in the world and start making agreements with other people.
Now, if you have been this over caring, over giving, always accessible to everybody else, people-pleasing person your whole life, let me tell you that deciding one day to suddenly tell people that you have boundaries probably isn’t going to go over well. They’re going to think or say, “What do you mean? You’ve always been available to me. What do you mean by no? What cult have you joined?” People in your life, especially the ones close to you, are not going to be okay with this. When you start to include yourself in the conversation, you’re going to have some discomfort that comes with changing and shifting how you relate to other people.
The way I think of it is similar to a mobile over a baby’s crib. It has all these strings hanging down, and the baby’s looking up at it. If you pull on one of those, all the other ones start going off balance. So the first thing you want to realize is that if you make this change, it might be a little uncomfortable for a while. So do you have practices in your life that will help you? Do you know how to pause and breathe? Do you know how to reground yourself so that when this gets uncomfortable, you can self-manage? Otherwise, here’s an example of what it will sound like: “You know how I always walk your dog for you every morning and every evening? I might not be able to do that starting Monday.” What would you say if I said that to you?
Ana Paula: I wouldn’t be very happy about it. I’d be in shock. What happened?
Doctor Neha: Yeah, you’d ask, “What happened? What do you mean?” Then, if I don’t have my own practices and I don’t understand that things might be changing, I may try to backtrack: “You know what? I’ll do it. Sorry. Didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I’ll take care of it. I’ll figure out how to do it.” Then I start backtracking, and I turn myself into a pretzel to make sure you’re happy with me.
Before you get all the way to setting boundaries to change things with other people, you need to understand there’s going to be some discomfort. What are your methods to ground yourself? By the way, in chapter four of TalkRx, I teach you some techniques to reground yourself. Once you do that, what you want to reframe in your thoughts is I’m not saying no to somebody else. I’m saying yes to me. Then you want to make sure you say it right and set yourself up for success. It might sound like this: “Hey, Ana, you know how I’ve been walking your dog for the last three years in the morning and evening?”
Ana Paula: Yeah.
Doctor Neha: “I wanted to say your dog’s adorable, and I have enjoyed all of it. Some things are changing in my life, and I want to have a conversation with you to talk to you about how that might work or not work moving forward. I’m wondering when you have 10 or 15 minutes for us to discuss that?” See how that’s a different conversation than me going right in and saying, “I can’t walk your dog. Been doing it. I’m not doing it anymore.” Instead, I set the conversation up for success. You might still be surprised and be like, “What do you mean? I depend on you.” The truth is, I’m being respectful and I warm you up to the changes that are coming. That’s setting the conversation up for success.
Now, when we’re in the conversation, what I’d say is: “I have really enjoyed doing this,” if that’s true. You don’t say things that aren’t true. “I’ve really enjoyed doing this. In fact, it really allowed me to connect in a way to get unconditional love from your dog. I’ve really enjoyed doing it. It got me walking. It’s amazing. I’ve just found this new apartment. My life is changing. I’ve got this new job and new opportunity…” Say whatever is happening for you. “I want to figure out a way that we can transition this and have it work for you and work for me. There’s a part of me a little worried that you’ll be upset about this or that if I make a change, it will be a problem. What I want you to know is I care about our relationship and our friendship, and I know how important having honest conversations and being direct is. I’m wondering, what are your thoughts on this?” Do you see how it’s a bit gentler?
Ana Paula: Yes.
Doctor Neha: Would it feel authentic to you if I said that to you?
Ana Paula: Absolutely.
Doctor Neha: People may think that saying no or drawing boundaries would be the end of their relationship with someone. I actually think of it as an opportunity. If you do it well and you’ve thought about it, you understand yourself and you respect someone else, then it might actually be a great opportunity to connect on a deeper level.
Ana Paula: Yeah.
Doctor Neha: Is there a little short-term discomfort? Yes. But for long-term gain.
Ana Paula: Absolutely. That was a beautiful example. Thank you.
Doctor Neha: You’re so welcome.
Ana Paula: Dr. Neha, before we wrap this up, what would you recommend people start implementing in their daily lives to improve their conversations? What’s a good starting step?
Doctor Neha: The first step is about body-paying attention and knowing that your body is always talking to you. The question is, are you listening? We have all these strategies that numb us the information that gives us the earliest warning signals that something is aligning or not aligning with what we want or what we value. We ignore those signals until they get so loud that we get physically ill or our relationship blows up or we get fired. So I’d say catching the signals early is the first step. Learning to listen deeply to your own body. And knowing in what form you learn best so you can make changes. Do you learn best in video? Do you learn best in audio? Do you learn best by reading? If you know yourself, start to get a sense of what’s working and what’s not working.
Here’s an exercise to do for the next seven days: Pick a seven-day stretch, where on your phone, you make an ongoing list. One list is the people, tasks, experiences, and interactions that give you energy. The other list is the people, tasks, experiences, and interactions that drain you of energy. Track it for one week, and make notes about how you knew that something gave or drained you of energy, such as your heart racing, stomach turning, a sinking feeling. How do you physically know that that’s happening? At the end of a week, look back at your notes so you can see the patterns and how many tasks, people and experiences you’re allowing at the expense of yourself. It’s a great starting point.
Ana Paula: Yes, thank you. That’s so valuable. Before we say goodbye, can you tell everybody where they can find you and how to reach you?
Doctor Neha: My main website is DoctorNeha.com. You can find me also on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. If somebody is interested in the book, TalkRx, I do things like an online book club with the author. If you buy the book, you get a special resources website and join the private TalkRx Facebook community where you can ask your communication questions. I also do live workshops, which you can find on my events page.
Leaving the drama to Hollywood,