Over the last several months, we’ve all faced discomfort in new ways – from navigating the unknowns of the pandemic and making (and communicating) difficult business decisions, to facing unconscious bias and having important conversations about race – there’s no doubt we’ve gotten out of our comfort zones in new ways. If you’re like me, I’m committed to taking these lessons forward and pushing myself to embrace discomfort even more. If you were to commit to some additional chutzpah in your communications, where might you focus your energies?
Here are 9 ways to build more courageous conversations:
1. Have the tough conversations that you’ve been meaning to have.
Many of us have important thoughts that remain unsaid – conversations that would be valuable to have. Addressing issues upfront is the only way to keep everyday speed bumps from mushrooming into larger problems. Tell people what they need to hear in an empathic way – not what they want to hear to appease a situation. It’s often through tough conversations that we build relationships and cement bonds.
2. Stop talking and listen more.
We know what we personally think. The real opportunity is in knowing what others think. People act to support their best interests, so we need to understand where they’re coming from. The more you know about how someone else thinks, the easier it will be to understand where they’re coming from and reach common ground. The answer: Stop talking. Literally. The most effective leaders spend the majority of their time observing, asking questions, absorbing and listening.
3. Pick up the phone or hop on a video conference to actually talk with someone.
Don’t let email, instant messaging and other electronic forms of communication be a barrier to human interaction. Challenge yourself to pick up the phone two more times each day, especially if you have staff who work remotely. If you’re unable to “walk the halls” (at a safe distance), then schedule time for group or one-on-one video meetings without an agenda as a way to maintain human connection with your colleagues or teams. One thing some of our clients are doing is hosting a virtual video chat room where employees can come and go as they please – if this is something your company is doing, take the time to stop in occasionally as a way to “walk the halls” in a virtual setting.
4. Ask for what you need to succeed.
To get what you want – in life or in work – you have to be able to articulate your needs and advocate for yourself in a positive way. When a deadline is unrealistic, do you ask for more time to do quality work? When you’re missing background information on a project, do you politely insist on a briefing before you begin work? It might be easier to remain silent, but being assertive shows that you respect yourself and others.
5. Communicate bad news in the same way, and with the same zest, as good news.
It’s easy to communicate when times are good, or when you have good news to share. When the news is bad, the tendency is often to wait to communicate, or to not communicate at all. You might feel like if you don’t talk about it, then it doesn’t exist. While you’re waiting to communicate, the information vacuum fills. It’s human nature to make interpretations – whether right or wrong – in the absence of information. Tell employees what you know, when you know it. That’s all they expect.
6. Ask for feedback.
Everyone needs feedback. Learn to say the following: “I’m continually working on how to lead better and would appreciate your feedback. Can you give me one skill that I do well and one area where I can be even better?” Listen carefully, ask questions and thank the person for his or her perspective. Resist the urge to be defensive, which will surely prevent you from receiving honest feedback in the future. If people can’t think of something in the moment, then don’t let them off the hook. Suggest that you will follow up with them and then do it. Take their feedback to heart and commit to trying some of the ideas suggested. And, if the feedback is working, then loop back with the person who suggested it, and thank them.
7. Work on your blind spot.
We all have blind spots. In our personal lives, our spouses or best friends tell us what we need to hear, and they know us better than we know ourselves in some ways. Likewise, we have blind spots in how we lead. Ensure that you have a “truth teller” or two at work who can help you when you get in your own way and don’t realize it.
8. Embrace employees as decision makers.
Tap your people to help you plan and solve problems. Chances are the people closest to a problem already have ideas about how to resolve the issue. Employees support what they help create. Ask and involve them.
9. Don’t forget the fundamentals.
Always speak the truth, without exception. Share the big picture first. It helps for everyone to start with the same base of knowledge. Cover the basic questions that employees have first – who, what, where, when, why and how. Say please and thank you. Constantly communicate the “why” to make action meaningful. Always answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” and “Why should I care?” Tell people what they need to do and help them do it. Ask questions so that you hear employees’ opinions. If you don’t know the answer, then say so.
In what ways can you have even more calm, courageous conversations?
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