One of the areas I am asked to coach leaders most frequently on is how to have those gnarly conversations.
You know the ones, right? The ones where you get a full on tennis ball in your throat, your gut knots and you get palms that resemble a towel in a gym changing room.
And yet, you KNOW it’s the right thing to do – to just HAVE the conversation, because the consequences of NOT doing it are like seeping, insidious sweet poison.
Because if you don’t, you are denying the person the chance to get better, the opportunity to gain clarity on the effects of their actions and worse , yes much worse, is the fact that when you let things go – this becomes the standard in your team, and everyone will think that it’s OK to do the same too.
Quick descent into low performance.
The first thing to recognise is what your own behaviour pattern is when faced with leaning into a tricky conversation. Is it:
- Withdrawal – I’ll do it tomorrow, can’t deal with that right now (and never get round to it – I’m busy, right?)
- Avoidance – it’s getting heated, I’ll change the subject, or hold off saying what I need to say
- Masking – using humour to deflect, or insincere compliments to soften the blow
- Controlling – I’m losing this argument, so might exaggerate the “facts” to help my point of view. Or, I’ll get this conversation back on track to where I need it to be right now…cut people off
- Attacking – telling people their point is obviously crazy, and saying things like “give me a break”?
The Four Steps to Being a Soft Boiled Egg
So once you are clear on your pattern, you need the steps to having a great conversation that seeks to create deeper connection, rather than disparity and conflict.
- Don’t wing it.Get clear on what you want to achieve – like really. What is the mutual joint purpose of the conversation and and what do you NOT want to happen i.e upset them/create a rift.
- Create awareness.Be vigilant in the conversation. Look for signs that the other person is feeling unsafe. They will either go silent, or become heated. Your job now is to make it safe again. This also means being hyper-aware of your emotions and what story you are telling yourself. Interrupt that pattern. Get back to the intent of the conversation. State it as the joint purpose for both sides.
- Have a structure for the actual conversation – state the facts first, relay your story – what you are making this mean, ask them their point of view, listen, be open and brainstorm agreement.
- Create conversational connection– this is the “how”, the timbre/feeling you create in the conversation. This is the boiled egg bit – too hard “you must change this”; too soft “I am sorry I have to have this chat with you, and it might not mean anything, but…”; just right “there is something I have noticed that might be of value to you…I would like to talk it over with you…when is a good time, now? Or at 4pm..” Listen and explore their point of view. Oftentimes they have zero awareness of the effect of their action.
The real opportunity here is not to simply get over your own hurdle, but to create a wave in your organisation. One where everyone knows how to have these conversations themselves, and is clear that they are expected in your team.
I heard something yesterday from one of my clients, that I LOVED – as leaders, it’s our job to create safety in our teams, so that we can be dangerous out there.
Go be dangerous on the outside (and a soft boiled egg on the inside).
Sue “safety first” McKenzie
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