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Category Archives: Discussions

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It’s no surprise that many of us tend to avoid difficult conversations. Why would we want to make ourselves uncomfortable or become the subject of someone’s wrath? Why would we want to potentially open a can of worms?

Though difficult conversations are just that—difficult—they are also sometimes necessary for improving the present climate or paving the way to a better future. Though you may be reluctant, or even a little scared, to engage in difficult conversations, oftentimes they are necessary and can actually improve things, going forward.

Here are 4 reasons to dare to hold difficult conversations:

[NOTE: In past blog posts I’ve talked about how to prepare for difficult conversations. See this post about the D4 Model and this newsletter about the 5 P’s of Courage for more…]

1. They can set the record straight

In many workplaces, rumors fly and reality can get twisted or obscured. If you’re in a situation where you’re uncertain of the truth, it’s best to sit down with the people involved and get to the bottom of it. It might be as simple as figuring out who was in charge of a certain report or who neglected to contact a client when that needed to happen. The purpose of this conversation isn’t to place blame, but rather to uncover the truth and begin to problem solve.

This type of conversation can also help you put safeguards in place so that the same unfortunate situation doesn’t happen again. It’s possible that it’s no one’s “fault” and the system simply needs a bit of an overhaul.

2. They can provide forward motion

Sometimes when we fail to confront a difficult situation, that can lead to stagnation. The office might be so hung up or distracted by a single person’s (or a group of people’s) actions that it becomes their primary focus. To get the wagon wheel out of the rut, you need to face the situation head-on and engage in a potentially difficult conversation(s).

EXAMPLE: Let’s say Kim hasn’t been turning in her reports on time, which, in turn affects the rest of her team’s progress. Everyone is upset and productivity is down. To get past this rut, you’ll have to bite the bullet and have a conversation with Kim. It could be that Kim was unaware of her responsibilities or didn’t understand the dominoes affect her tardiness was having. It’s possible Kim has felt unsupported or unmotivated lately (in which case, maybe she’s in the wrong role). Regardless, having this conversation can help move your entire team from a place of stagnation to forward movement and problem-solving.

3. They can start dialogues

You may not truly understand someone’s actions, or what is going on in their head, until you speak with them. It’s possible a situation is more complex than you realized (for instance, maybe someone is constantly late for their 8 a.m. Zoom meetings because they have to drop their kids off at daycare). It’s also possible that the other person hasn’t understood the consequences of their recent actions. Sitting down and having a conversation can help create a bridge of understanding. It can open dialogues and help both sides understand what is broken and how to go about fixing things.

4. They can earn you respect, as a leader

Effective leaders have to make hard decisions and engage in difficult conversations regularly. That’s the reality. If you gain a reputation as someone who avoids problems and lets things “work themselves out,” you won’t gain much respect. If, however, you are known to tackle problems head-on and address issues as soon as you notice them, you’ll be seen as a proactive leader who has a real stake in the wellbeing of your team. What’s more, people will come to understand that you will hold others accountable for their actions and you will act in the best interest of the team. Your people will know you have their backs.

Instead of shying away from difficult conversations, embrace them! Start seeing them as opportunities to have fruitful conversations that move your team forward. Tough conversations can be uncomfortable or daunting, but the rewards are ultimately worth it. This comes with the territory when you’re a leader, and it’s a good idea to make lemonade with whatever lemons the workplace throws at you.


MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
CHECK OUT MARGARET’S ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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Many people I know run at about a mile a minute. They juggle work responsibilities, family, household chores, friendships, cooking, car repairs, and about a million other little things. When they do finally find a moment to themselves, they often spend it in front of the TV, or maybe listening to music, a podcast, or an audiobook.

Amid all the action and noise, where is the silence?

Silence is important because it allows us the time and space we need to just think and be present. When we go on a quiet walk or take a shower or drive the car with the radio turned off, we give our minds a much-needed break. These quiet moments allow ideas to germinate and come to life. They are essential to the creative process.

Think about it. How much creativity can you really have during a Zoom meeting? Or when you’re helping out with homework? Or scrambling to put together dinner?

There’s a reason why the advertising agents in the show Mad Men have all their best ideas during “downtime.” When your brain is allowed some peace and quiet, it has the freedom to stretch and travel to places it might not usually go. Entrepreneur Jason Hennessey sets aside an entire day (what he calls “Creative Wednesdays”) for idea generation and creative endeavors. He admits that the idea of devoting a whole day to creativity was daunting at first. He feared that he wouldn’t get all his work done and that deadlines wouldn’t be met. However, he found that his Creative Wednesdays actually made him more productive during the other four days of his workweek. He had more energy and enthusiasm, and he found himself looking forward to his mid-week creative time.

Get Started

You don’t have to dedicate an entire day to quiet, creative time (it’s simply not feasible for many people). However, you can start somewhere. Begin by setting aside fifteen minutes or half an hour every day for quiet journaling, mind mapping, or free writing. If you have a family or housemates, let them know what you’re up to, so they respect your space. Then, find a quiet a room or go for a walk and let the ideas flow!

This may not come naturally at first, but take heart. You’ll soon become accustomed to your designated quiet time. To help ease into this time, you may want to practice free writing. Pick a topic and write whatever comes to mind. Let your thoughts flow in a stream of consciousness. Don’t worry about grammar or complete sentences—just write. You may be surprised by what comes out!

We all need a little more silence in our lives. Try fostering quiet creative time in your life, and see what comes of it.


MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
CHECK OUT MARGARET’S ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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It seems that, with each passing year, our country is becoming more and more divided and less able (or willing) to understand each other’s perspectives. That’s a shame, because a little empathy can make an enormous difference. When we understand where people are coming from, what they believe, and why they operate the way they do, we can build bridges, instead of putting up walls. We can make progress instead of becoming gridlocked.

I have found that I can find common ground with anyone, no matter how different we are. I can sit across the table from that person and have a perfectly civil conversation. We all have the power to do this, we simply need to follow a few simple guidelines:

Start with Common Ground

It’s always easier to ease into a conversation once you’ve established some rapport and some common ground with the other person. Are you both fond of cooking? Do you both have children? Do you enjoy hiking? Or artwork? Or gardening?

Ask questions and be willing to open up and volunteer information about yourself. Connecting with others takes a measure of vulnerability on both sides.

Ask Questions

Empathy starts with caring about the other person and their point of view. Be curious. Ask open-ended questions (instead of yes/no questions) and get the other person to open up. Be intentional about your question-asking tactics and don’t ask questions with the intention of picking a fight.

Listen

The other half of asking good questions is practicing active listening. It’s great to ask questions, but if you don’t listen to the answer, you’re not going to get anywhere. Oftentimes, we ask questions, thinking we already know the answer. But, it’s possible (even probable) you do NOT know the answer! In fact, it’s best to assume you don’t know the answer to a question when you ask it. That forces you to pay attention and truly listen to what the other person has to say.

Pick Your Battles

It is difficult to change another’s mind over the course of a single conversation. Besides, that shouldn’t be the goal of your interaction in the first place. The goal is understanding. Hopefully, once you’ve demonstrated empathy and a willingness to listen to another’s point of view, that person will behave in kind. If it seems appropriate to share your perspective, start with a bridge-building sentence. For instance:

“I understand you feel X about Y. I see the situation a little differently. This is my point of view…”

If the atmosphere begins to feel hostile and the other person starts putting up walls, that’s a sign that the conversation is going nowhere. If that’s the case, there’s no harm in changing the subject. You’re not giving up; you’re recognizing that traveling further down this road would be futile. Better to end the conversation with some mutual understanding and respect than to push it into hostile territory.

I firmly believe that empathy is the missing tool many of us need to build bridges and establish mutual understanding. Be the bigger person—extend empathy first. Aim for understanding, ask questions, be a tad vulnerable, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll start a dialogue and encourage people to come together to solve problems, instead of fighting across the aisle.


MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
CHECK OUT MARGARET’S ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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