When I ask executive audiences, “How many of you know that you need to have a conversation but you have been putting off actually having it?”, almost every hand will raise. Maybe your direct report hasn’t delivered the report when he said he would. Or perhaps you noticed how a newer team member has been a courageous voice on a challenging project. Whatever it is, we know we need to get better at addressing the real conversation, in real time, and to do so directly with the person or people involved.
However, not many of us are comfortable doing so. Many prefer to avoid confrontation or any form of conflict. We are also surprisingly inept at sharing the positive impact others have upon our lives and/or the incredible contribution of their work. There are so many great things we think and feel about others that we simply do not share. For some, sharing the positive impact others have can be even more challenging than sharing the things we want them to do differently or better. After all, why provide feedback that sounds like praise? Isn’t it their job to get the work done well?
We need to get better at having real conversations.
The real conversation is the conversation you are having with yourself but are failing to have with the person or people involved. Unfortunately, whether you verbalize it or not, it is impacting you, all of your relationships, and the business.
To be a truly effective as a leader, to lead with executive maturity, you must be able to have any level of conversation (the good, bad, and the ugly), with anyone (up, down, or across the organization) while remaining open, curious, and solution-orientated.
If this sounds easy, it isn’t. Most of us are easily triggered by particular words, behaviors, or personalities, and can be highly sensitive and reactive on at least a few topics.
We all have work to do. Here’s how to advance:
The Five Questions Worksheet (below) is designed to help you bring greater awareness to the conversation playing out within you. Take pen to paper and complete the worksheet at least twice: once to prepare yourself to have a real conversation in which you want something changed. Then, complete it a second time for a conversation about something that is working exceptionally well that you simply need to acknowledge.
The purpose of The Five Questions Worksheet is to speed up the time it takes for you to: (1) recognize the real conversation begging to be had, and (2) ensure you can effectively have it in real time.
Your answers to these five questions will often be the exact conversation you want and need to have with the person or people in question. Answer the questions and then consider your answers a script for the conversation, which you might even share verbatim.
When you have the conversation, speak from your own experience. You can do this most effectively by using “’I’ statements.” The five questions are designed to draw these from you (i.e., what I think, what I feel, what I want). Using “I” rather than “you,” “one,” or “we” when speaking makes your words direct statements of your own experience rather than attempts to interpret someone else’s. Making this one simple change can have a significant impact on your real conversation.
Here is an example:
“Raj, I thought we agreed (speak using “I” statements) that you would deliver the report to me on Friday at 10 am. However, I never received it nor heard from you (the situation/facts from your experience). What happened? (curiosity). For myself, I am confused and frustrated (what you are thinking and feeling), as this now holds up my ability to deliver the completed report to Mary on time, and thus, my reputation with her (what I am thinking, feeling, the impact). I am concerned I can’t count on you to do what you say you will do (the larger impact). Normally, I wouldn’t raise this because I have such respect for you and your work (what could hold me back from having the real conversation). However, I fear that if I do not raise it, I will no longer trust you or want to work with you (the important impact for the relationship and business). I am having this conversation because I really do want to work with you (my intention in having it). I would like us to set clearer expectations (what I want, my intention for having the conversation, solution-seeking).
“Alex, I noticed (“I”-statement) you speak up at the recent all-hands meeting (situation, facts) and I want you to know I think it took a great deal of courage to share a dissenting opinion when the entire group wanted to proceed (my thoughts and feelings). I am glad you raised the issue because it made us all realize we were failing to consider critical aspects of the project (the important impact for the business). This is hard for me to say because I don’t want it to sound phony (what could hold me back from having the real conversation) but I want you to know admire your courage and that my trust and respect for you went through the roof (the important impact to the relationship). I am sharing this with you to ensure you know just how much I value you and your leadership (my intention for having it).
We all need to become more aware of the conversations occurring within us and then to have the courage to share them directly. Let The Five Questions Worksheet be your guide to finding the most powerful and authentic language in which to have them.