January 24, 2011

Are you having GREAT conversations?

Cover of "Fierce Conversations: Achieving...Cover via AmazonI read Fierce Conversations a while back, I highly recommend it to anyone who is at a point where they believe they could get more through more their conversations with closed ones or colleagues.
On quote that has been with me for a long time is: ‘one builds or destroys a relationship one conversation at a time!’ Every opportunity I have to have a conversation is an opportunity to build up the relationship.
I have been running Macadamian for 13years now as CEO, President or aspiring developer. My definition of working through people has changed several times over the years. It started off as literally working through people, as in bulldozing my way, to let me hold your hand I’ll show you. Through the help of very capable coaches I became aware at some point that I was missing part of the point. In any conversation : Fred, It’s not what is being said that matters as much as what is not being said most of the times.
The people who have GREAT conversations are people who can get to be said what typically goes unsaid. As one who is aspiring to have great conversations, one has to create the environment favorable to having such conversations. 
How to get at the un-said? Three things to master:
  1. One has to be a great listener and be able to ask questions
  2. Separate intent from impact in what is being said
  3. be constructive and compassionate
On being a good listener. Can you shut up and listen? It’s much harder than it sounds. Can you go from a waiting to talk mode to a truly listening mode, where you’re fully engaged in understanding what it is the person you’re listening to is saying? Way too often we end up thinking of what to answer to what we’re earing, correcting the facts, asking another question, etc.
You’re best performance here is making sure the person is saying it all, and getting it all in the open. Every thing you say, your tone, your body language, the words you use are saying go-on I’m listening, I want to hear it all. It is not the time to go in solution mode, it’s not the time to go quick fix, you’re in listening mode.

On separating impact from intent. There is what we ear, and there is what is being said. We always ear according to our own reality, and understanding of said reality. Some people are not good at saying what they want to say, they will fumble the ball, it will get out all wrong, they are outside of their comfort zone, and it’s difficult for them to communicate this highly intense/emotive message, for one reason or another. Sometimes we just can’t at first to let it out, it needs coaxing to get out.
Now more than ever it’s important to listen well.  When something you’re earing gets you agitated one way or the other, take a deep breath, gets some much needed oxygen to your brain, and ask what do you mean? can you elaborate how you come to this conclusion? what assumptions are you making? is this truly the only option, let’s assume there is more, what would they be? This is how you get to help yourself separating the intent of the message, from the impact it has on you. Lot more things will be said this way, lot more information will be communicated, and most probably the only way for the truth to bubble up to the top.

On being constructive and compassionate.
In the part of the conversation where it’s my turn to talk, I come at it from a headspace of helping people grow, I’m here to support them in that growth.  I need to have them in a receiving mode, with plenty of oxygen in their brain. Again here a balanced approach is key, the situation can be abysmal, yet my feedback as crisp as it will be, needs to always keep front and center I’m here to help this person. The best way to always have the person in a space that your feedback is perceived to be supportive is by being compassionate and constructive. Focus on what needs actions, vs what not to do. Focus on what to excel in, versus what the flaws are. Compassionate and constructive means you give your feedback crisply, to the point, with the support built in the message. The weaknesses, mistakes etc still need to be said, they must be said such that the takeaways of the conversation is I am supportive and I believe in their capability to excel.  
As a manager our goal is always to let the truth bubble its way to the top. Sometimes we’re really challenged for time, and going into directive mode can really save time, sometimes there is no other way. As a manager I believe in balancing my approach. Yes I will be directive in the situations where I need to be that way, and I will make sure I’m truly a good listener in the situation where I believe it’s the way to go. I think if I achieve this balance well, my people are going to be more happy because they can say what they really think with me. In the situation where I need to be directive, they will understand it happens I need to be this way, and that this is not the only way I manage.

Which brings me to the fourth point of the three steps program! At wrap up time, when the conversation is over, one last thing. Get the person you’re talking to tell you the net net of the conversation, what she is taking away from the conversation. Truly listen and make sure you ask questions that will truly highlight what you want to be taken away.


Dan M said...

‘one builds or destroys a relationship one conversation at a time!’

I adore this quote. And that same mentality applies so well to so many other things! Consider:

'one builds or destroys a user experience one interaction at a time!'


'one builds or destroys a product one patch at a time!'

It really speaks to how everything we do, not matter how small, contributes to something big.

Frederic Boulanger said...

Dan so right, it goes to the 1% improvement every day, it makes a difference a couple months down the road!