Alec Grimsley's Blog

Difficult conversation: Develop a FAB response!


Developing a FAB response in difficult conversations

Imagine the scene… you’re trying your best to handle a difficult conversation or your handling what you regard as a difficult person. Just when you think you’re handling things quite well, you innocently say something that triggers an unexpected reaction from the other person, maybe they get angry and accuse you of incompetence, alternatively they throw you some guilt with a line like “I’ve made all the sacrifices in this relationship you just take, take, take!” These are the moments that it’s so easy to lose our emotional balance in the conversation and its easy to automatically fall into either a fight or flight mode. If its fight we launch back with even more venomous dialogue making the conversation increasingly hostile and unsafe for both parties. Yet equally we may hit the flight panic button and become increasingly passive and capitulate to the other person’s tactics, demands or behaviour.

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Difficult conversations with family members

They are without doubt some of the most difficult conversations we will ever face. Raising a really sensitive issue with a family member has massive stakes attached. Unlike other friendships familiy ties are in the most part there for life and incredibly interconnected with other family members. Fall out with your brother and you now create awkward and political challenges for your parents, sisters, uncles and aunts etc around all sorts of future family gatherings, not to mention whose side they should take.

A couple of months ago The Independent asked if they could write an article about how I could help one of their Journalists with a difficult conversation they needed to have with a family member.

I’d be delighted to hear your comments on what you thought about the article which you can find here:

Can a conflict coach from the world of industry teach us how to manage the difficult conversations in our family lives?

Does your mindset pass the transparency test in a difficult conversation?

Will your mindset pass the transparency test in a difficult conversation?

Our true mental programming comes to the fore when challenged by a difficult conversation. When you squeeze an orange, what comes out?… orange juice. When you are pressured in a challenging conversation or feel that need to achieve a very specific outcome, what mindset leaks out of you? While many people talk a good game around being collaborative and win/win approaches (which reflect an aspect of what I call third- generation thinking), their behaviour (and mine at times) under stress suggests that they’re often much more aligned to first or second generation thinking.

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What is a vital conversation?

Ken Blanchard once said “While no single conversation is guaranteed to change the trajectory of a career, a business, a marriage or a life, any one single conversation can. These are often the difficult conversations that are pivotal to our future happiness, peace of mind or business success. These crucial conversations tend to differentiate themselves from our every day conversations by having five defining characteristics:

  • High stakes (psychological or material)
  • Uncertainty around how the conversation will play out
  • Historical Baggage
  • Differences of opinion
  • Strong emotions

It’s possible that your vital conversation may not contain all five ingredients, yet it is highly likely that strong emotions will be experienced as a by product of one or more of the other four.  My role is to coach and train people to identify and engage in these vital yet often very difficult conversations. I would be very curious to hear from people about which conversations you find the most challenging to deal with…

Are you really a leadership team?

How much leadership and debate actually happens in the boardroom? In my experience of observing senior leadership teams (SLT’s) the answer I’m sad to say is very little.

When I’m asked to work with a leadership team, I will first passively observe the structure  and  flow of conversations between directors and in 8 out 10 cases the content of their conversations are more aligned to a series of individual monologues where directors update each other about performance targets, project milestones etc. These teams would be better described as a Senior Update Team (SUT). By default these teams are not openly debating the big issues facing the business, they are not having the difficult conversations that reveal the flaws,  misunderstandings, poor execution or missed opportunities that directors operating unilaterally can make. Instead it becomes the norm that unilateral decisions get made outside of the boardroom either on a purely individual basis or in small cliques. The consequences of an SUT identity is that the so called  leadership team is not joined up, the unilateral decision making creates frustration and reduced trust with other team members  as the implementation of those decisions have unforeseen and unexpected negative impacts on other business units. I think there is a clue in the title “leadership Team.” Is your leadership team actually leading the business as a team or is it a collection of  talented individuals who lead their own units but do not lead the organisation as a whole?  Comments?