How to handle a crucial conversation: Diary of a (somewhat) reformed confrontation avoider

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Avatar: Emily Walker
  • Emily Walker
Oct 26, 2021

One thing I love about working at FCTG is the ample opportunities to grow and better myself both personally and professionally. Our learning and development team offer countless courses, both face-to-face and online, that are designed to challenge us and expand our skills to be able to better navigate certain situations both in the workplace and in our daily lives.

Recently, I enrolled in the ‘Crucial Conversations’ course where we were exposed to concepts to help transform our thinking and frame our mindset to have a successful crucial conversation. Even in my role as an Internal Communications Coordinator, I’m acutely aware that I have room for improvement when it comes to approaching conversations and communicating my points effectively. Throughout the course, we discussed the four objectives to a conversation, three transformational ideas and explored the seven principles that underpin Susan Scott’s Fierce Conversations model.

“Our lives succeed or fail one conversation at a time. While no single conversation is guaranteed to change the trajectory of your career, business, relationship or life, any single conversation can.” Susan Scott.

First, we had to consider what conversations we found the most challenging. For me personally, it was anything that involved confrontation, however for many others in the course being Leaders of teams, their pain points involved any conversations that involved approaching performance or behavioural issues within their team. We were then asked to consider what made these conversations difficult to have. Common answers included being unsure of how the other person would react, the fear of causing friction to the relationship as well as worries involving likability possibly leading to further problems down the track.

There are several reasons that we find crucial conversations so hard to have, particularly amongst leaders needing to raise concerns about their team’s performance or behavioural issues within their team. Fear of how the other person will react, worries about likability and angst about crucial conversations possibly causing a fracture in the relationship are the common concerns that stop crucial conversations from taking place.

According to Fiona Taylor, FCTG Leadership Development Facilitator, engaging in difficult conversations is a necessary and unavoidable part of working with others.

“It does not have to be a stressful or confronting experience. Those who can create trust, rapport and understanding can facilitate these types of conversations in ways that are caring, transparent and authentic,” she says.

Next time you’re faced with the prospect of a crucial conversation, it might pay to brush up on Susan Scott’s seven guiding principles:

Master the courage to interrogate reality

Often when we attempt to tackle a crucial conversation, fear causes us to shift and change course. Sometimes this fear causes us to not speak up when we intend to, or, it can cause us to say something that we don’t truly believe for the other person’s benefit. Avoiding these crucial conversations can have a detrimental effect on our relationships and our lives. Being able to master the courage to interrogate reality means gaining the confidence to speak out when you feel it is necessary. We must play a proactive part in the success of our relationships with the first step being to open up to others on how you truly feel.

Come out from behind yourself, into the conversation and make it real

Having a “real” conversation means showing up authentically. Nothing will ever be achieved by participating in a conversation if you are not being real. Instead, it can lead you further away from accomplishing your goals by wasting not only your time but the time of others.

Be here, prepared to be nowhere else

Showing up to a real conversation authentically takes preparation. You can put in all the hard work and set your intentions however if you are not physically or mentally prepared for the conversation you are hindering the success for yourself and others involved.

Tackle your toughest challenge today

The idea of having crucial conversations can be exhausting and one of the reasons we feel this way is because so many of us put them off and let them fester into something bigger and more daunting. A problem named is a problem solved.

“Burnout doesn’t occur because we’re solving problems, it occurs because we’ve been trying to solve the same problem over and over” - Susan Scott.

Obey your instincts

Don’t just trust your instincts, obey them. So often do we bite our tongues and hold in something that we should have said in the moment, only to walk away full of regrets for not bringing something to the surface. Tuning into yourself and trusting your gut not only can benefit yourself but could also benefits those around you who may share the same view or opinion.

Take responsibility for your emotional wake

It is important to recognise that your actions have a ripple effect on those around you. This is aptly named your emotional wake. Especially, as a leader, there is no comment without a flow-on effect. A throw-away comment could have a devastating impact on someone who looks to you for guidance. Conversations form the basis for relationships and all relationships are built one conversation at a time. It is extremely important that a leader has enough self-awareness to deliver their messages without the “load”. This will allow leaders to be able to speak with clarity, conviction and compassion.

Let silence do the heavy lifting

Almost as important as what is said is what is not said. When there is too much talking and not enough listening, meaningful conversations struggle to occur. It is vital that when we participate in crucial conversations, we listen to understand not listen to respond. Ensure there is enough silence between words for insight to occur so all parties have the chance to achieve an understanding of one another.

Source: Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott.

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