Dreading the tough talks?
At the Two Brain Business summit, all the mentors were put in front of a camera and interviewed about our ”superpowers as a mentor”. My answer was that I have the ability to bring out other people´s superpowers. I often do that by listening a lot and by asking good questions. People grow in confidence when you help them realise that they are capable of doing things and of solving their own problems.
Another superpower that I have, according to others at least, is having tough talks. I guess that is part of what I mentioned above but it is also becasue I have had a lot of experience of those kind of talks. Some examples from my life:
I used to work as a teacher and then you would sometimes have to have really tough talks with parents. People tend to be upset when they are ”protecting” their children
After working as a teacher I was a principal for some years. Except from dealing even more with parents than as a teacher I also handled up to 80 staff. Both in regular team meetings and 1 on 1 talks. In swedish schools you have to offer individual talks at least twice a year so you can see I´ve had my fair share of talks. You would be surprised to hear how often you have to help grown up people handling conflicts between eachother, how often you have to remind people about their duties and how often you have to comfort them because THEY have tough situations with parents or students
As a boxowner I´ve been in some interesting situations. Once I literally had to throw one of my co owners out…he is not a co owner anymore but is actually back working for us!
I´ve had to deal with some really ”interesting” members. Everything from people who are just angry to telling someone that they stink of sweat and that other members are complaining. I have had some really tough talks with staff. Quite a few times with lots of crying and lots of anxiety from their side.
We used to be foster home parents. That meant a lot of tough talks with the parents. Often a dysfunctional parent is the very reason that kids and teens are placed in a foster home and/but their parents still have a right to be involved.
Becoming a principal and a foster home parent means having lots of training in differens conversation techniques. You learn how to ask open ended questions, you learn how to have motivational conversations, you learn how to deal with threats, you learn how to give and receive feedback etc. But the real learning comes from having the real talks, nothing can really prepare you for that.
I have handled a LOT…being yelled at, being threatened, being lied about and much more.
Has it been worth it? YES! Almost everyone of those tough talks have lead to me being a better leader and almost everyone of those tough talks have lead to me having better relations with the person involved. Believe it or not but often the very reason that you have to have tough talks is because people are insecure. You can HELP them by having the talk and by being a good listener. Below are some of my best advice, based on my experiences
• LISTEN first. Try not to be to ”pumped up” when starting a tough talk. If you are the leader/boss there is a big chance that your staff if both nervous and a bit anxious and it is up to you to set a good tone for the meeting. I always start by stating the reason we are having the talk and then I ask my counterpart to give his/her version of the situation. Now, here is where it might get interesting😊 You might have to sit through some accusations or some things that you just don´t agree with. My strong advice is to keep on listening. Let them talk until they are finished and then start asking clarifying questions. Do NOT interrupt and do NOT start defending yourself or arguing. You lead the conversation and you WILL get your chance of saying what you think. Be very patient, more often than not, when you start asking questions, you can help the other person to see things from a different perspective and there might be no reason for arguing at all.
• Don´t be authoritative, that may put the other person in a defensive state of mind and then he or she will probably not be honest in your talk. Once again, you are the leader and already in a position of power, if you can have the conversation without using that position it is going to help your staff in the long run.
• Be persistent, some people may not respond well even though you listen and act calm. You might have to be persistent in making your message clear
• Be open minded when you enter a presumed tough talk. Everything may just be a misunderstanding. That is why it is so good letting them tell their version first. Many of my presumed tough talks have ended up being some of the best talks I have had. You stress yourself up, sometimes weeks before, just to realise that you were only projecting or assuming things that wasn´t true.
• You don´t have to ”win” a tough talk. If you thing that having tough talks is some sort of competition you are always going to lose. If you have to threaten staff to do as you want they are not going to stay with you for long. If they stay they are not going to be fully invested and they are not going to trust you.
• Always book a follow up talk in the near future. Always be clear that it IS a follow up talk and that you want to make sure everything is working out for you both.
I definitely haven´t succeeded with all my talks. I have yelled at parents who didn´t behave in meetings. I have yelled at a team of teachers once. I have had some serious conflicts with individual teachers. I have had to fire staff. I have AVOIDED tough talks that I should have had. But I have learned from every one of those situations.
Sometimes people are just acting stupid. Sometimes you act stupid…
Just as you have to practice your handstand or your weightlifting to become better, you have to practice your leadership skills and your conversational skills. Do NOT procastrinate since that is only going to make things worse. If you need some guidance or help before a talk, just get on a call with me. If you THINK you may have to have a talk, than you probably should.