Harder than it Seems
At a recently Conversations for Brilliance workshop, we came to the part where participants prepare for a difficult conversation. Using our planning tool, they draft an opening statement for a corrective feedback conversation. Once completed, they read their draft aloud to a peer and ask how they could make it less threatening and more inviting. The idea is to craft a concise opening statement that creates a safe environment and starts the conversation off in the best possible way.
Because these conversations are often very emotional and difficult, I give people the opening line and ask they read it exactly as written on the page. It goes like this:
“I’d like to talk with you about __________.” (They fill in the blank with the high-level topic, e.g. “I’d like to talk with you about your communication style.”)
10 seconds into the exercise, I called a stop. Despite reading from the page, everyone misspoke. Can you guess which word they got wrong?
Each participant said, “I’d like to talk to you” instead of “I’d like to talk with you.” One participant disagreed with me and said confidently, “No, I read it as is..’I'd like to talk to you’…” Then he abruptly stopped, and there was a shared realization in the room of how deeply conditioned we are to talk at, not with.
Why is this? Probably lots of reasons including our desire for speed, our lack of curiosity, our conviction that our assumptions are true, and plain old habit. Plus, I suspect that most people don’t relish the thought of spending much time in a difficult, uncomfortable conversation. So we hope that if we throw our truth at you, you will magically be motivated to change your behavior.
But it doesn’t work. Unless we feel heard and understood, we are unlikely to be motivated to change. Instead, we will feel disrespected, demotivated, and less trusting.
Susan Scott, author of the bestselling Fierce Conversations, reminds us of the nature conversations. In Latin-based languages, the root of the word–”con”–means with. Scott writes that one workshop participant told her, “I think my father has ‘versations’ with me.”
How about you? Do you have ‘versations’ where you jump to conclusions and rush to closure, or do you take the time to have ‘conversations’ that evoke discovery, mutual understanding, and trust?
How to Tell Your Speaking With, not At
Real conversations for brilliance include open-ended questions like “What’s your understanding of the situation?” and follow-up questions like “What else?” They include real listening, not just waiting to speak your truth. They include verifications like “What I’ve heard so far is…What did I miss?” They include silence, where you allow a person to contemplate and form their response. And they include invitations to speak your truth like “Please tell me how you see it.”
They do not include interruptions, or leading questions like “Were you trying to _____?” They include very few closed-ended questions like “Did you think about _____” The tone is curious, not accusatory. They are distraction-free
But We Don’t Have Time!
Some people are afraid that real conversations take too long: that it’s more efficient to share our opinion and give quick advice. Problem is, after too many ‘at’ conversations, trust breaks down and with it, results. Truth is, trust is the grease on the wheels of business. And trust is derived from an up-front investment in a search for the truth. With trust, every conversation is faster, more productive, more open, and more engaging.
Big Return on Investment
Back in the workshop, participants learned just how hard it is to appear curious, especially when your emotions run high. They learned the tremendous value in taking a few minutes to write out your thoughts and speak them aloud to someone objective. To get all our tips about how to have motivating feedback conversations that actually build trust and get results, check out our video series and get the free conversation script planning tool.
Then find an objective friend who will listen and gauge how well you’ve crafted a conversation that might actually evoke brilliance. If you’d like our help, send your draft to me at email@example.com.
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
~Stephen R. Covey