In a survey done a couple years ago with nearly 10,000 employees from 300 different types of organizations across the United States, the research says that 93% of people on a consistent basis have avoided having a courageous conversation with a co-worker around an important challenging issue.
Of these, 89% of people surveyed had avoided having a challenging conversation with their boss on a consistent basis. Executives are concerned by this number because not having honest feedback from their employees limits their ability to be successful.
However, the number that is most concerning is 81% of people in a leadership or manager role have avoided courageous conversations on an on-going basis with their direct reports.
When you think about leadership, there are really three roles to a good leader.
One, get the work done through others; two, develop your employees by on-going feedback through positive reinforcement and having courageous conversations as needed; and if you are taking care of the first two, three is strategic leadership for your team and your organization.
Communication is essential to the human experience, yet we are often misunderstood. People communicate with one another many times a day, each in a unique form, and the messages we send are often complex and easily misinterpreted. Every person communicates with language of some kind, but that is not where communication ends. Some people accentuate the language they use with the look in their eyes; others use hand gestures or body language to convey their meaning. Babies will cry to communicate long before they are able to talk, and deaf children may choose to ignore the people around them by closing their eyes. Expression takes many forms, but human beings aren’t the only members of the animal kingdom that express themselves in unexpected ways.
Bees have a distinct way of letting the rest of the hive know about ample food sources they discover: They dance. The “dance floor” is found inside the comb and bees use it to communicate the location of flowers (and pollen) to the other members of the hive. The orientation of a bee’s movements and the frequency of her vibrations indicate the distance of the flowers from the hive and the direction the bees will need to travel to take advantage of the food source. There are two main dances that forager bees perform: The “Round Dance,” in which the bee runs in a small circle (performed when food is nearby), and the “Tail-Wagging Dance,” which accurately describes the distance and direction of the food source from the hive to the other bees (performed when the food is a bit farther away).
Like humans, different bees will communicate in different ways, so each dance is unique to the bees performing it, as are the circumstances under which the dances are performed. For example, some European honeybees perform the Tail-Wagging Dance when the source of food is more than 100 meters away, whereas others, like some Indian bees, may do this dance when the food is just a few meters away. As the other bees watch the dance, they pay attention to what the bee is saying with its movements so that they can learn where to go for an ample supply of food.
We can take a few tips from the bees about how to communicate well and share information with others.
React, but do not rescue
Give them a reason to listen
Listening is crucial to effective communication. Without an understanding of what is actually being communicated, we are like the deaf child who simply closes his or her eyes in defiance. At times, listening actively is very hard, especially when we struggle to concentrate on the person or the message. Something that may help is to focus on your “target.” Look others in the eye; show them you are engaged in what they are saying. Think about what is being said rather than how the message is being delivered, and avoid distractions whenever possible. Many wise people have suggested that we were given two ears and one mouth for a reason; we should remember to use them in proportion when communicating with others.
React, but do not rescue
We spend less time listening to people during conversations than we’d probably like to admit. Instead, we think of ways to respond, or we search for ways to “rescue” the person from the problem. We want to solve the problem and end up imposing our own solutions on the person, whether our advice was solicited or not. Rather than defaulting to these tired strategies, try something new: Respond to what you heard. Let the person know you have heard what was said, but do not try to be a hero. Rather than “rescuing” the person, listen carefully and acknowledge what was said. Don’t be afraid to react, but save your advice for another time.
Give them a reason to listen
Offer honest and useful feedback when prompted. Share information that will be helpful, but don’t allow personal biases or ulterior motives to creep in to your conversation. Don’t begin by telling others that you know “just how they feel”; most people are offended by this on some level, and at its very best, a statement like this one is inaccurate. Don’t confuse sympathy with empathy, and don’t diminish another person’s experiences by claiming to have had the same ones. Listen with two ears and one mouth.
The dance of human communication must be carefully choreographed, but when it is performed well, all kinds of relationships will improve. Our “dance” will not only allow us to transfer information more accurately and efficiently, it will show our willingness to genuinely listen to others—and to be heard by them—helping us to take the first steps towards greater understanding and improved communication with the people around us.
Let me start off by telling you a little bit as to what I think Courageous Conversations is and maybe even more importantly what it’s not. Let me start off by saying what it’s not.
This workshop is not designed to help make all of your difficult conversations more comfortable. Chances are they may never be comfortable just because of the nature of the conversation.
If I need to sit down with one of my direct reports and give them feedback about their performance, you know what, that may never be comfortable, but I can learn to be more effective if I choose to deliver that message.
So again let’s not talk about comfort, let’s talk about effectiveness. I would also say it’s not a gimmick, it’s not going to be some five step process that you memorize and it’s going to make all your difficult conversations go away it’s going to be a framework to help smart, caring, confident, hardworking people like us when confronted with these challenging, difficult conversations know what’s effective and what’s not and how we can hopefully get the issues resolved that need to be resolved.
Is that fair enough? Again, I’ve mentioned, it’s not as much about changing the other person as it is looking at what we may be doing that is getting us into trouble.
The following eight points regarding Courageous Conversations might help you understand key elements about the importance of having them. They can also be looked at as reasons why we need to step up and have courageous, heart-to-heart conversations with others.
CMOE’s methodology that comes from some of the most rigorous social science research ever conducted covers a 40-year span. The research explores why it is that we as bright, articulate, and caring humans have such a difficult time being effective in conversation when important issues are at stake.
The research reveals that there are some very predictable traps that we as humans fall into when discussing challenging issues or topics with others. It is tied to the fight-or-flight response.
Our desires are usually good, and, even with our best efforts, we unintentionally create conflict or misunderstanding with others when important issues need to be discussed.
It is not because we don’t care about the issues; it is precisely because we do that creates these negative patterns resulting in ineffective conversations.
Research conducted at MIT reveals that none of us are immune. Regardless of our age, race, gender, or status in life, very predictable patterns emerge during important conversations that get in the way of being effective. Understanding what these patterns are and how to craft more effective and courageous conversations should be what life is all about.
The Courageous Conversations framework helps you remain focused on the issue or problem and not the personality or the person. It teaches you how to be direct and bold, but not overbearing. It teaches you how to be honest in a way that lets others be honest in return.
Mastering the Courageous Conversations framework will not make your difficult conversations necessarily more comfortable, because the emotional side of a conversation is real and sensitive. But it will make them more effective and can be mastered by both individuals and teams.
Fostering conditions that will enable people to act with high levels of candor, respect, and responsibility is critical as they engage in discussing difficult, complex issues.
It is understood that people learn best by doing, so if you can gain experience around these key skills and behaviors, and find opportunity to practice them, you will find greater success in the outcome and results of your courageous conversations.
The ability to deliver effective feedback is an important skill that all leaders should possess and work to improve. Feedback helps solidify relationships and builds trust between individuals. Without appropriate and timely feedback, others are forced to make assumptions about how they are perceived. This can create risk, misunderstanding, and conflict. Learning and cultivating specific skills can greatly improve the feedback that you give. There are three main areas to work on if you want to improve your ability to give feedback.
Think before you give feedback.
Give the right type of feedback.
Deliver the feedback correctly.
1. Think before you give feedback. Take the time to stop and think about what you are about to say to someone. Not only will this stop you from having “knee jerk reactions”, it will also allow you to build a plan for the conversation you are about to have. Be prompt with your feedback and do not allow excess time to pass before you deliver it. Be specific about what needs to be discussed. Develop a plan to keep the discussion on course.
2. Give the right type of feedback. Keep your focus on the behaviors of others and not on their personality or character. Don’t let your feelings and attitude towards someone add to or detract from your feedback. Balance the feedback that you give between the corrective type and the supportive type. Doing this lets people know what they are doing well and what they can try to improve upon. Be clear on your expectations. Set goals and limits on the behaviors and skills that you expect.
3. Deliver the feedback correctly. When delivering feedback, there are many skills that will help communicate your message more effectively. Be yourself. Don’t change who you are when you deliver feedback to someone. Stay calm. Really listen to the other person and don’t overreact to what they say. Use eye contact to show them that you are paying attention and clarify your understanding of what they are telling you. Lastly, share your feelings. Let people know how you connect with the feedback that you are delivering to them.
When your next feedback situation arises, try implementing these skills. You will see the effectiveness of your feedback improve as you improve on the different skills used when delivering feedback. Here is a recap of some helpful feedback skills:
Before you give feedback, develop a specific plan and be prompt with your delivery.
The content of the feedback should focus on behaviors and use a balance of corrective and supportive feedback.
When delivering feedback: be yourself, share your feelings, stay calm, use eye
The New York Times recently did some anecdotal research on feeling awkward with talking to friends, in person, to resolve differences. Of course, these social habits are likely to rub off into the work place, and may affect your employees and therefore your business. Do you see a problem with your employees not being able to resolve differences in person? A lot of problems can arise in business from not being able to negotiate a problem, which is a critical social competent skill, as well as a vital business skill. The reliance on the Internet and cell phones have made it easier for people to avoid situations that make them feel uncomfortable.
Is technology hindering our face-to-face ability to communicate? Although the ability to text and e-mail is terribly convenient in a world where time is so vital, is it allowing people to avoid conflict? Although these technological mediums are important, we need to remember how important it is to use face-to-face contact. It is important to have this face-to-face to reduce ambiguity and clearly be able to work through situations that inevitably will arise.
As the younger “texting” generation becomes more integrated into the work place, a greater need to focus on face-to-face communication will become vital. The ability to negotiate problems and handle situations up front and strategically will be critical for the success of your business.
People are like fingerprints, no two are alike. Because each person has unique histories, talents, abilities, and behavior traits, we receive, internalize, and react to feedback just as differently. Yet receiving and responding to feedback and coaching is critical if we are to grow, improve, and become better, more well rounded individuals.
This past week I took my family on an extended weekend trip to the lake to get our last summer fun in before school gets underway for the kids and the weather begins to turn cold. As I was leaving my neighborhood in my truck (Bed full of cargo, and boat and trailer in tow), the individual driving a vehicle in front of me decided to make a turn into a supermarket parking lot. This immediately created a problem for me. Not only was the driver not in the turning lane/shoulder of the road, he didn’t put on his turn signal until the very last moment. This chain of events could have caused an accident if I hadn’t proactively hit my breaks and creep into the other lane in an attempt slow my truck and boat in order to avoid crashing into his car.
I was irritated by the situation and offered up some feedback to the driver. In my attempt to slow tons of my steel truck and fiber glass boat, I gave a couple of honks on the horn followed by a quick flick of my heads lights (meaning get out of the way and quick or I will crash into you). What really bothered me was the reaction this guy demonstrated to my warning. He pulled to an immediate stop, and offered some crude hand gestures through his window and proceeded to drive slowly. It was clear he wanted to turn this issue into heated verbal or physical argument by his behavior. I told to my wife “that guy is a jackass.” Not from his driving abilities, but from the way he responded to my feedback. My feedback was not intended to show rage. I did not lay on my horn and start yelling. I gave a couple of honks and a flicker of my headlights telling this guy that his current behavior was going to cause an accident. That’s why cars have horns.
His reaction caused me to evaluate my perceptions of both giving and receiving feedback. I thought about how I would have reacted if I had been honked at. My conclusion is that we all need to be more open to feedback and coaching and not take personal offense to it. In order to grow, and develop we learn from others. If we are to enhance our abilities and expertise, we need to receive feedback, either supportive or corrective.
This is all about reinforcing the positive. When you see someone doing something great and want the behavior to continue, or simply recognizing someone for their work. It is geared to continually improving performance.
Corrective Feedback This is about changing behavior, performance, and results. It occurs when an improvement or change in needed. It is important to understand that corrective feedback is not negative or abusive in its style, it is only intended to correct the behavior at hand.
While it is important for us who both give and receive feedback to understand these two types, we can hit higher levels of performance if we are a little more open, a little less sensitive (on the receiving end), and ensure our point of view is clearly communicated. Let’s recommit ourselves to the concept of feedback.
It was 11:45pm. The light was off and my head just landed on my pillow. It had been one of those long and busy days! I was starting to drift into sleep when I hear my boy Talmage (3 years of age) out of his bed and moving around. I got up and walked into the hallway where he was lying and I asked impatiently why he wasn’t in bed. After giving excuses and nonsense answers I said in a stern voice “get back in bed.” This battle has occurred many times before. His response was “I can’t,” “why not,” I immediately replied? “Because I went pee-pee in my bed.” I let out a big sigh of frustration. It’s late, I’m tired and I now get to change the bed linens, give my boy a bath, and get him ready for bed again.
Before I tell you what went wrong, I need to provide you with a little more background. My boy has no problem in controlling his bladder during the day. It is at night when he’s in bed or asleep where the problem exists. As I put him down to bed I explained to him that we need to keep our underwear dry. I explained that this makes Mom and Dad happy, our teachers at pre-school happy, and makes him a “big boy.” I made it explicitly clear that we DO NOT go pee-pee in our underwear, knowing that at his age accidents would at some point happen again. His response was a cheerful and loving, “okay Dad, I won’t.”
So after this late night discovery I asked the question “Talmage why did you go pee-pee in your bed?” He said “I needed to keep my underwear dry so I took it off.” I let out another frustrated sigh and thought to myself “you decided to wet the bed and that is okay in your mind, you did exactly what I asked which was to keep the underwear dry.” I love the simple thought processes of children.
As I finally made it back to bed, I thought to myself where did the communicating and coaching go wrong. I linked it to CMOE’s Eight Step Coaching Model and the well regarded Step 2: Define the Topic and Needs. It was very clear to me that because of my impatience and desire to get to bed, I failed to generate a clear understanding of the “Topic” which was keeping his underwear dry and “Need” which would be to use the bathroom to accomplish this.
The point of this story is when we are in a rush, impatient, or frustrated it’s easy to throw out our intended course of action without thinking clearly. Regardless, of how skilled or unskilled we are, these are often the situations when we need to pause and ask our self the question “Are we providing accurate coaching and effectively communicating to those who are in need or seeking our help?
Here are a few things I missed:
1. Taking the time to accurately explain the expectation or what some might call an assignment
2. Explaining the greater importance of fulfilling the expectation wasn’t fully explained
3. I failed to offer clear and effective ideas or suggestions to help him succeed
4. I was oblivious that a conflict of opinion or misunderstanding even existed
Every Conversation Is Important!
Forget the fad that only crucial conversations are important, every conversation is important! Leaders, especially, cannot be in a rush to communicate or provide instructions to individuals they work with or manage. By learning and developing a habit of effective communication, it will minimize conflict, improve efficiency, and will help you solve problems before they become unmanageable.