Monday Motivation

From Conflict-Averse to Courageous Communicator

Have you ever avoided a difficult conversation at work, hoping the issue would magically disappear? You’re not alone. Many leaders struggle with confrontation, but as you’ll discover, these courageous conversations are essential for building a thriving team.

In this post, I’ll share my own leadership journey, transforming from a conflict-averse leader to a champion of courageous communication.

As a leader, I often prided myself on getting things right 95% of the time. But that remaining 5%? Those were not my finest moments. Confrontation made me uncomfortable, saying “no” was a struggle, and I frequently resorted to avoidance, hoping issues would resolve themselves. I was too tolerant, failed to hold others accountable, and prioritized my discomfort over the needs of the group.

Today, I want to help you avoid the pitfalls I experienced. It’s crucial to become courageous communicators, not just for your own growth but for the betterment of your teams and organizations.

Late in my career, I realized that not being direct with my team wasn’t caring for them—it was caring more about my own feelings, my desire to be liked, and my reluctance to “rock the boat.”  I used avoidance tactics, hoping problems would resolve themselves. This approach had a significant downside. My silence wasn’t supportive; it bred resentment and left team members feeling unseen and unheard.

Avoiding difficult conversations is a disservice to those we lead. As Brené Brown wisely says, “Clear is kind, unclear is unkind,” and “Choose discomfort over resentment.”

When we manage challenging situations directly, the outcome is often a sense of empowerment and relief. This is the feeling I want each of you to experience: lighter, more empowered, and ready to face new challenges.

The ABCs of Courageous Conversations – Let’s break down the process of having courageous conversations using the ABC framework: Awareness, Background, and Conducting the Conversation.

A – Awareness – Awareness begins with self-awareness and extends to understanding the situation and how others’ actions impact the project or organization. It’s about recognizing your strengths and weaknesses and how to navigate different scenarios. For example, the DISC Personality Assessment can help you understand your tendencies. As an S (Steadiness), you might avoid confrontation, while D (Dominance) types might embrace it.

Awareness also involves understanding how others prefer to be treated—the Platinum Rule. By focusing on the strengths of your team members and forgiving their quirks, you can harness their best qualities for the benefit of the team and the organization.

B – Background – Before approaching a difficult conversation, it’s essential to understand the context. This is where the Iceberg Effect comes in—the most dangerous parts of business problems are often hidden. Gather the necessary background information to distinguish pertinent details from gossip and separate purpose from emotion.

The Johari Window model can help build trust, encouraging open communication. By collecting facts and perspectives, you can approach the conversation with a clear understanding, reducing the risk of misunderstandings.

C – Conduct the Conversation – When it’s time to have the conversation, plan carefully. Define your specific concerns and desired outcomes. Choose a private, distraction-free environment. Overcoming fear and discomfort is crucial—write down your concerns to clarify your thoughts and prioritize the most pressing issues.

During the conversation, focus on the issue, not personalities. Be curious, not judgmental, and use “I” statements to express your concerns without blaming. Active listening is key—acknowledge the other person’s perspective and ask “what” questions instead of “why” to keep the discussion constructive.

Acknowledge that difficult conversations can be emotional. Offer breaks if needed and use techniques like deep breathing to manage your emotions. Avoid extremes of violence (aggression) and silence (withdrawal). Work together to brainstorm solutions, set clear expectations, and ensure accountability.

End the conversation positively, focusing on moving forward. Brene Brown’s quote, “Courage is contagious,” reminds us that by practicing courageous conversations, we inspire others to do the same.

Foster a Culture of Open Communication and encourage open communication within your organization by:

  • Practicing courageous conversations daily
  • Moving from conversation to action
  • Fostering collaboration and mutual understanding
  • Following up and holding each other accountable

By embracing these strategies, you can cultivate a culture where courageous conversations are the norm, not the exception. This will lead to more transparent, effective, and empowering leadership, benefiting everyone involved. By fostering a culture of open communication, you’ll build a stronger, more collaborative team. So, the next time a difficult conversation arises, embrace it as an opportunity for growth, both for yourself and your team.

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