As a former serial avoider of the tough stuff for fear of hurting anyone’s feelings, learning how to instigate a confronting conversation in a way that’s clear, respectful and kind – and has the potential to produce surprisingly positive outcomes – was nothing short of a revelation for me.
I’ve lived with the consequences of not having those conversations – professionally and personally – and watched how one, in particular, that was avoided ten years ago is still making for an extremely uncomfortable and frustrating working environment for those concerned. I’m talking about a particular staff member who used to spend a lot of work time on the phone making abusive personal phone calls, seemed to be constantly “sick” and frequently took days off, wouldn’t take direction, and couldn’t care less about the impact her behaviour was having on everyone else.
I love a formula, a step-by-step recipe that, followed precisely, gives me the outcome I want. When I learned a formula that sat comfortably with me (it’s direct and very respectful) for instigating tough conversations, I was over the moon.
I’ve since learned that a formula is only part of the equation. What’s more important is your intention. And if I had to choose one or the other? I’d ditch the formula and go with the intention, every time.
When you approach a difficult conversation with the intention of using it as a learning opportunity, you drop any notion of I’m right and you’re wrong. That intention changes everything, and can produce outcomes you weren’t expecting that just might be very good.
Learning opportunities don’t have room for anger or blame. They create a cauldron for real conversations that bubble and brew with how you personally feel about the issue at hand and what’s at stake, as well as your contribution to it, and your sincere desire to reach a resolution.
That kind of intention can create warm handshakes rather than firing cannons.
Learn the formula. But don’t it expect it, alone, to take you where the conversation is longing to go. A formula executed precisely and inlaid with blame will only lead you to more fireworks, and not the sort that make you ooh and ahh.
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.