Discover how to communicate clearly and build lasting relationships.

When the end of a year end rolls around, I’m reminded of conversations with coaching clients about ending well.  At the end of a coaching engagement, we look back to where we started and review progress toward the objectives that were identified.  We also recall lessons learned and how to apply those going forward.  Then, we celebrate successes.

Consider These Questions

As you look back, consider whether any of these questions could help you end well:

  • Whom do you need to forgive (including yourself)?
  • What conversation could clear the air and improve a relationship?
  • How can you take the high road?

I invite you to take action on at least one thing that will give you a reason to celebrate a success and end on a positive note.

Are you the person everyone comes to see when they need to vent?  Do you spend a lot of time comforting colleagues, friends and family members and then find yourself depressed and exhausted?

Empathy Can Drain You

We are told that empathy is important in understanding how others feel, and yet it can drain us if we take on too many of someone else’s negative emotions.  Practicing compassion along with empathy enables us to relate to others who are suffering without becoming too distressed.

Take Action

Taking actions like these helps us feel that we can make a difference and gives us strength to resist the temptation to wallow in someone else’s misery:

  • Avoid blame
  • Encourage cooperation
  • Give to charitable causes

If you are a naturally empathetic person, I invite you to consider approaching the other person’s pain from your point of view rather than trying to mirror their feelings, and notice the impact on your mental health.

If you have been to a wedding recently, you might have been asked to write a note of advice for the newlyweds.  Mine is always the same – master the art of disagreement.

Agree to Disagree

Agreeing to disagree is an important skill in any relationship, personal or professional.  There are times when we need to listen to the other person’s opinion, respectfully express our own, and recognize when the discussion is not going to change anyone’s mind.

When to Try a Different Approach

This can be a challenge for those of us who are able to use our powers of persuasion quite effectively most of the time.  It might be worth considering a different approach when:

  • The issues aren’t black or white – exploring the gray area requires seeing the other person’s perspective
  • Emotions are strong – calling a truce when things get heated can help us avoid saying things we will regret later
  • The stakes are high – instead of creating a win/lose situation, honoring both sides can help maintain the relationship

That is the secret to the art of disagreement:  focusing on the relationship instead of winning the argument.  What if everyone tried that for a change?

When 850 people attended my webinar on Fierce Conversations for the Society of Women Engineers it confirmed that this is a hot topic.  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.

You Make the Change Happen

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. 

How to Start
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
Next Steps
  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?

I received a very snarky comment on a team building evaluation that 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.

What Are Your Triggers?

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.”

What Does the Other Person Need?

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?

“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.

Deeper Connection

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.

Persuade, Teach and Inspire

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