Making Tough Conversations Easier II

It’s a complex world, the one you work in.  Way too complex for any one leader to have all the answers. Everyone holds a piece of the truth.

Once you really get that, you’re on the road to enlightened leadership.

The seemingly confident, directive, get-‘er-done manager whose M.O. is, “My way or the highway” might seem “strong,” but come on — it’s weakness and insecurity that leads someone to say, “My mind’s made up; don’t confuse me with differing perspectives.”  (Yes, of course there are exceptions:  a fire in the factory, an ethical breech, a safety violation…)

It’s downright immature to be focused on being right.  What about what’s in the best interests of the organization?  Virtually everyone who studies leadership these days knows that opening to others’ ideas leads to a higher level of performance.

But getting diverse perspectives on the table — so the best results can be achieved — only happens when people feel safe to fully participate in the conversation.  When they do, the kind of brainstorming that sparks creativity and excites synergy can take place.  Here’s one way to help people feel safe to bring out their best.

Only when everyone’s perspectives are considered can the best result be achieved

Let’s say you’re facing a conversation that’s likely to engender disagreement, or even conflict, but you think it’s critical for your perspective to be expressed.  Play with this format:

  1. Briefly say what you think.  Express your perspective on the issue or concern.  Do this as clearly and concisely as possible
  2. Say why you think it.  Elaborate by supporting your perspective with facts, observations, conversations, your own feelings, etc.
  3. Ask for feedback on your reasoning.  Understand that your perspective is always only a limited part of reality.  So ask, “What might I be missing here?” or “What am I not taking into account?” or other questions that invite others to help you expand and clarify your thinking
  4. Ask for the other’s perspective on the overall situation, issue or concern. For example, say “I’d appreciate hearing what you think about all this …”

The bottom line:  you must truly believe that your perspective is but one way to view the truth, that you can learn from others’ perspectives, and that only when everyone’s perspectives are considered can the best result be achieved.  Then you convey those beliefs in the tone you set in the conversation.  This is when magic can happen.

YOUR PATH FORWARD: Next time you know you’re going to have a challenging conversation in which your opinion is going to conflict with someone else’s, take five minutes to plan what you’re going to say, using the steps above.  Then after the conversation, take another few minutes to ask yourself:

  • How effectively did I express what I wanted to say?
  • To what extent was I genuinely curious about the other’s perspective, and open to having my perspective tweaked?
  • How well did I listen?
  • What was the tone of our relationship throughout the conversation, especially at the end?
  • What do I intend based on what I learned in this reflection?

About the Author

Steve Motenko
Steve Motenko is an executive coach, leadership trainer, and co-host of The Boss Show, a weekly podcast on workplace dynamics. Steve and his Boss Show co-host, Jim Hessler, are co-authors of Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face: A Guide to Building Your Leadership Platform. Steve lives on Whidbey Island, Washington, with his wife and dog, whom he loves, and a cat he tolerates usually pretty well.

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