I used to be very shy. When it came to tough conversations, the best word that captures my behaviour would be skittish. In fact, I learned from an early age that it was best to be seen and not heard, does that ring any bells for you?
It was only many years later that I realized what had happened to make me a strong communicator, despite being a poor bet for that outcome:
- The internet protected me.
I was able to use the lag time after getting an awful email to get all my nervousness out. Yes, that includes freaking out from time to time. I would throw up, lose sleep, drain the negative energy leaning on my best friends, and then, gulping, type a short response, usually a question of clarification.
- After a period of time practicing clarifying, I was able to see a pattern.
Mostly, the horrible conversations I imagined never ensued. The simpler I could make my email responses, the more the conflict deescalated. Now this was magic! Always clarify, became my mantra.
- Into the clarified space, I was able to make requests.
In the most timid of ways, I asked for things. “Would it be possible, perhaps, to consider adjusting the time of that appointment?” Sure! “It would be a big favour if we could complete this project within a week instead of two.” Doable. “I’m afraid that won’t be possible.”Alright. Wait, what? Yep. It all became possible, one baby step at a time.
And with that, the evidence mounted. It was okay to be pause, be clear, then speak and get what I needed and wanted. It was a full-scale leadership revolution inside me. A pleasant aside? A change from feeling sick with worry about conflict all the time.
The Internet is a fantastic place to practice becoming great at challenging conversations
In fact, it often seems to have been created for that purpose. Asynchronous conversation may depersonalize in some ways, but in that extra space is the room to grow. Room to become a person who can handle challenging conversations of all kinds. By starting in these protected pockets online, eventually this transfers to in-person conversations. It’s as if one day in a meeting with real people around you, you forget that you’re not writing an email, and say something bolder instead.
Cat’s out of the bag now – You Just Said Something in a Tough Situation
“Excuse me, could I pause you for a minute?” said I.
“I apologize, but I am really confused. I understand what you’re saying in this presentation about marketing and the importance of it, but I don’t understand why we’re talking about this right now.”
Cue the sound of startled silence from the room of about 15 people, with about 90 minutes left on the day’s agenda.
“Would it be possible to review what it is we’re trying to achieve in this meeting? My understanding is that we both want to leave this meeting with confidence we’re on the right track. That when we leave this meeting and your beautiful country tomorrow, you will know what we really want, and what will make us happy. And we, on the other hand, will leave with hope and confidence that you will be able to carry that out well without us. We really want to leave you with everything we can to make that happen, and I think there are a few things we should say before our time runs out.
Although the marketing information is useful, we have quite a bit of experience with marketing…
Do you think we could cover a few points here about strategy, and we can see whether time remains to talk about general marketing? I really don’t want us to waste the precious time we have together, with 15 smart brains around the table from around the world, and today our last day together.”
Next Time You’re In a Less than Useful Meeting, Try Saying “Not to throw a turd in the soup, but….”
Learning to stop a meeting when it isn’t going well is one excellent place to start flexing your ‘We Need to Talk’ wings. This can be in a one-on-one phone conversation, a virtual teleconference, or in more traditional face-to-face meetings.
Because such is the nature of business, meetings are happening all the time, and a great deal of time and energy gets wasted.
Would you consider for the next 10 days, keeping an eye out for the possibility that you could stop a meeting with just the words ‘Excuse me, not to throw a turd in the soup, but could I pause us and review our goals for this meeting?’
You might be surprised how many grateful people show up when you do this. Assuming the answer is yes, and the meeting gets paused, what should you do next? Great question. You apply the 3 questions in the ‘Delta Model’ for Conversations covered in Chapter 2. A diagram showing the 3 questions is viewable here and you can of course, read more about it in the book itself.
Other Ways to Build Up Your ‘Challenging Conversation’ skills
- Say ‘no’ to a small request of some kind. Doesn’t matter if you could say yes, just say no instead.
- Ask for an improvement from a team member or vendor. Open with the words ‘Thank you. I’d like to ask for an improvement on something.”
- Look for a place to write ‘Regrettably, this isn’t working for me” in an email. If you’re like most business owners, there are places where this statement is true. It’s saying so that will be new.
You’ll find lots of opportunities outside your business too
If you find yourself really challenged by this, try it in places outside your business to start. Heck, do like Indrani Goradia suggests in her course ‘Live a Brighter Life,’ and take 12 items to the 10-item grocery store line.
Although some of these actions may seem small to you, they are the beginning of big leadership opportunities. Soon, you’ll no longer feel nauseous at the words ‘We Need to Talk,’ knowing that you’re up for the challenge. How will you know? You’ll have proved it to yourself. What are some other ideas for small ways to practice? Post in the comments below.
Our book on this topic is now available in Kindle, Audiobook and Paperbook for the first time, and if this article resonated with you, we heartily invite you to pick it up. Until June 5, for every copy of the book sold, we’ll be donating a copy of the book to a worthy cause. Go to www.weneedtotalkguide.com for more info.