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Need to have a Fierce Conversation?

In a recent webinar for the Society of Women Engineers, I had the opportunity to speak to more than 850 people about Fierce Conversations. You may be familiar with the book by Susan Scott, who defines a Fierce Conversation as one in which we come out from behind ourselves into the conversation and make it real. That means we have to be authentic and say what we mean. We have to resist the temptation to answer, “Everything is fine” when it really isn’t. We have to say what is true – in a way that others can hear it.

Often we avoid engaging someone in a conversation because we worry that they might feel hurt or get defensive. They might refuse to talk or get emotional. But Fierce Conversations can’t be dependent on how others respond. If you know something must change, then you’re the one who must change it. 

The Fierce Conversations model includes an opening statement in which you:
  1. Name the issue
  2. Provide a specific example of the behavior or situation you want to change
  3. Describe your emotions about this issue
  4. Clarify what is at stake
  5. Identify your contribution to this problem
  6. Indicate your wish to resolve this issue
  7. Invite the other person to respond
Then you can:
  1. Listen and ensure that the other person feels understood
  2. Reach resolution and determine how to move forward
  3. Make an agreement and commit to holding each other accountable
As Susan Scott says, “Our lives succeed or fail one conversation at a time. The quality of our lives is largely determined by the quality of the questions we ask – and the quality of our answers.”  
 
What Fierce Conversation do you need to have?
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It’s Not Always About You

I received a very snarky comment on a team building evaluation recently and it really upset me. This was a particularly challenging group and I worked hard to give them what they needed to learn about themselves and each other and to practice communicating and collaborating while having fun.

Because the comment was harsh and not at all constructive, it threw me right into my stress behavior. I couldn’t focus on all the positive comments because all I could see was the negative one. It took me several days and multiple conversations with trusted advisors before I realized, “Maybe it wasn’t about me.” As I always tell my team building participants, “I teach this stuff and I still forget it sometimes.”

The person who made the comment obviously didn’t get what he needed in the session. If the evaluations hadn’t been anonymous, I would have asked him what was missing. Asking others what they need is a foundational practice I teach in team building. What I forgot is that focusing on the other person’s needs can be really difficult when I am not getting what I need.

The ideal scenario is to meet the other person halfway, but that requires two willing parties. Sometimes you have to go all the way to the other side to find out what they need. That might be easier if you remember that their behavior may not be about you.

Whom do you need to meet halfway?

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The Power of Storytelling

“This work changed my life.” When a client tells me that, I am grateful, humbled and energized to continue finding opportunities to help people fulfill their potential. This particular client was very good at telling people what he thought they wanted to hear, but I knew he meant what he said because he had worked hard on being authentic. He had learned how to let people know that he cared about them personally.

Sharing stories about his struggles as the new kid in school and his challenges in meeting his parents’ extraordinarily high expectations helped my client connect with his colleagues at a deeper level. As a result, they trusted him to tell them the truth and lead them through a very challenging time in their business.

Our storytelling tradition has been around since humans started talking around a campfire. Technology allows us to share our stories in different ways now, but we are still moved by someone who stimulates our imagination and our emotions. Your stories hold the power to persuade, teach and inspire – how will you use them?

For ideas and examples of great storytelling, check out

https://www.ted.com/talks, http://themoth.org/radio and www.storytellingsuccess.com

Bury the Hatchet

The speaker’s message was clearly meant for me. “Don’t bury the hatchet with the handle sticking out.” I was convinced that I had buried the hatchet in a very painful disagreement with a family member, but this advice made me realize that I still knew where the handle was. I hadn’t completely forgiven this person and it would be much too easy to grab that handle and resurrect all those negative emotions.

This concept originated with two Native American chiefs who buried their hatchets when they agreed to end a conflict. Think of all the energy required to constantly butt heads or avoid someone. Better to spend your energy burying the hatchet and the handle. You can start by:

  •  Forgiving – acknowledge both parts in the conflict and commit to forgiving the other person unconditionally.
  •  Identifying what you have in common – a shared goal or a common adversary, perhaps a competitor.
  •  Taking responsibility – “I would really like for us to find a way to work together more effectively. What can I do to make that easier?”
  •  Accepting neutral – turning an enemy into a friend doesn’t happen overnight, but getting them from negative to neutral is a good first step. Just don’t stop there.

I invite you to ask yourself whether you might be holding onto something – would it be better off buried?

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Vulnerability Can Be Your Greatest Strength

I’m working with a senior executive who recently joined a new company. He wants to build strong relationships as a foundation for major changes he will be implementing, so I suggested a new leader assimilation process – he would invite his team members to submit anonymous questions on topics such as his strengths, weaknesses, decision-making style, communication preferences, etc. and then answer them in an open forum.

This is a powerful way to demonstrate vulnerability and begin to build trust and engagement. It is also an opportunity to set an example and inspire others to see that vulnerability can be a strength. To my client’s credit, he is willing to admit that he doesn’t have all the answers and to ask his colleagues for support – a big challenge for someone who has always been the go-to guy.

Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work whose TED Talk on “The Power of Vulnerability” is the fourth most viewed of all time, says, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of connection.” Once you make that connection, you have a strength you can leverage.

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Could You Translate That?

“I’ll get it to you by EOB tomorrow.” Does this statement save time because everyone understands what it means? If I assume that EOB means end of business is 5:00 PM CST and you mean 5:00 PM EST, could that lead to frustration or worse?

Every team and organization has its own language. Take a minute and write down the acronyms or phrases that you use frequently and then rate them – a plus for those that contribute to positive outcomes like inclusion and collaboration and a minus for those that can lead to negative consequences like exclusion or confusion.

Now for the challenge – what needs to change so that your language is an asset? How will you and your teammates make that happen?