Difficult Conversations

The recent Scottish Independence poll raised the spectre of our country changing more fundamentally than in any time I can remember. It mattered to me, and to many others well beyond Scotland. Yet the quality of conversation seemed woefully inadequate for most of the campaign; Private Eye’s front cover of Yes: a tropical beach and No: a volcanic inferno wonderfully summed up a polarised argument that often did nothing to really grapple with the core issues.

Difficult Conversations are necessary in every grown up organisation, and yet people often duck them in different ways:

  • “Let’s be nice” when I won’t say why this issue is so important to me because I’m afraid of conflict
  • “The bulldozer” that allows superficial conversation but little authentic listening before ploughing on regardless
  • “The think tank” where we can talk about anything but we don’t know how to get people to listen to us

Skilled leaders develop the ability to articulate their points of view, as well as being really interested in counter arguments, and are ready to ask questions to find out more. They have learned that the best solutions often draw on several minds, not one. Harvard business professor Chris Argyris calls this a mutual as opposed to a unilateral approach to conversations and it requires the fundamental skill of being able to move out of an adrenalized Fight or Flight state. Easy to say, much more difficult to do when the stakes are high, in business, sport or politics, and you have been triggered into an old but out of date way of reacting.

The following three suggestions will help you make a start.

1. Notice your pattern – what’s your main style of avoiding a difficult conversation? Do you recognise yourself in any of the above?

2. Plan for important conversations – including clarity about what is important to you and why. Also plan to find out more about the other person’s perspective.

3. When ‘triggered’ into a fight or flight state, take three slow breaths into your stomach and notice the physical sensations as you do this. This is a powerful and simple technique to help you access a more constructive adult mindset.

~ William Winstone

If you would like to find out more about how we can help you tackle difficult conversations with poise and confidence, call William on 07962 243644 or Jonathan on 07711 068874 . Alternatively, send us a message via our contact page.

Contact us:

Office: +44 (0)20 8216 3775
Jonathan: +44 (0)7711 068874
William: +44 (0)7962 243644

Email: info@performance-1.co.uk


124 Victoria Road, London N22 7XQ, United Kingdom

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