Let me get straight to the point. The primary cause of most of your discomfort, when it comes to what makes a “tough” communication tough, is…
…not being prepared to say what needs to be said.
Usually when you’re putting off initiating a discussion, or when you’re having trouble in a conversation, it’s because you’re trying to not say something! I’ll clarify with an example…
Let’s Look at Andrew’s (Lack of) Communication With His Boss, John
Only last week I was coaching a leader, I’ll call him Andrew, who told me that he’d been avoiding addressing an issue with John, his boss.
Andrew knew that John was feeling very uncomfortable about Andrew’s progress on two assignments. Because Andrew sensed this discomfort, and because he felt guilty about the lack of progress he’d made, he was ducking and diving, avoiding having a conversation with John. Now it’d gotten to the point where his hours in the office were extreme, he was experiencing way too much mental and physical stress and he wasn’t sleeping well at all.
Meanwhile, whilst Andrew was experiencing tension, John was also putting off having a conversation with Andrew about John’s progress.
Consequently their communications and their relationship had become strained. It was no longer easy-going and somewhat impromptu as before.
When Andrew described his uncomfortable situation to me I asked, “What are your honest thoughts about the assignments and the deadlines?” He responded “Although there’ve been extenuating circumstances, I’m still going for meeting the deadlines—but I’m pretty certain we’re not going to make them.”
I then asked, “How are you feeling about not meeting your deadlines, and the impact that will have on the project, and on your reputation?” He said “I feel really bad because my team members are all very, very stressed. I’m so nervous because I’ve let my boss down on this one. And I’ve let myself down too, and that feels horrible.”
“How would it be if you put those thoughts and feelings on the table with John? What would it take for you to having a disclosing conversation with him, in which you shared your thoughts and feelings, as well as your plan to make the best of the unfavourable situation?”
Having heard my question, that afternoon Andrew initiated a discussion with John, albeit a little nervously.
How Andrew’s Conversation With John Went
It went well Andrew’s candour elicited candour from John. (Funny that!)
Andrew was candid, and disclosed fully. As it turned out, the biggest problem for John was that previously he wasn’t convinced that Andrew actually “got” how critical it was that the deadlines were met—principally because Andrew had been avoiding having the “tough” communication.
John was very relieved when Andrew tabled his position and action plan, even though they were both pretty sure that there’d be slippage to the targeted deadline. Andrew felt a whole lot better—and began sleeping too. His relationship with John was back on the rails, positively impacting the productivity of both men.
Why Do You Shy Away From Saying What Needs to Be Said?
Given the benefits of candour, what has you being reluctant to “put the moose on the table?”
- If you’re like most leaders, some of the reasons will be that…
- You’re not altogether clear on what your thoughts and feelings are.
- Your model of a conversation is that of a “negotiation”—in which it’s often sensible to keep something up your sleeve. Consequently in your conversations you don’t want to “disclose all” for fear of compromising your “bargaining position”.
- You think that by being candid about how you feel, the other person might take advantage of you. The anticipation of having a difficult dialogue is puts you on guard. This has you feeling self-protective and withdrawing.
- You’re stopping and circling the wagons to prevent an anticipated skirmish—rather than progressing along the path.
- You’re simply not aware of the advantages of being candid. You don’t know what’s in it for you to be candid.
When you attempt to consciously or unconsciously hide how you feel, a 1/15th to 1/25th of a second facial expression gives you away. The other person, consciously or unconsciously, knows that something’s going on. Eventually we always, yes always, know something’s going on—when something’s going on!
What are The Advantages of Communicating Your True Thoughts and Feelings?
By coming to grips with what you think and how you feel, and then disclosing it:
- You get real clarity on your position. Simply by asking yourself (or being asked) “What are you really thinking?” and “How are you really feeling?” you’ll better understand what outcome you actually want to target.
- You no longer need to put energy into not disclosing. Instead you can almost relax into the dialogue and start to enjoy having an authentic and connecting conversation.
- Trust skyrockets!Candidly disclosing your thoughts evokes trust. Lack of truth-telling sows the seeds of mistrust—and there’s no way you can have a good relationship when trust is lacking.
Authentically communicating your thoughts and feelings puts you and the other person in a much better position to solve this problem, and future problems—and heck, apart from it having a very positive impact on productivity, it feels one-hell-of-a-lot-better too.
Your Leadership Call to Action
Think about a conversation that you need to have—one that’s not sitting very comfortably with you:
- What’s your real thinking about the situation?
- How do you truly feel about it?
- What’s an outcome that you could target that will sit well with your other person?
Now, think through the conversation that you could have…
In your mind’s eye, imagine it going well. See you and the other person smiling, even laughing warmly, as you complete the communication, and then move on to the next thing on your “To Do” list.
I’m happy to talk your situation through with you if there’s any struggle there. Just email me to arrange a time for a phone chat.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Carolyn Stevens has worked with leaders for more than 25-years—hundreds of them.
She’s supported leader after leader (including those who previously struggled to confront the difficult, let alone persuasively deal with the it) flourish—and become confident, courageous and impressively influential.
Carolyn is authentic and results-oriented. She draws on an eclectic array of approaches, tools and techniques to suit the situation.