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How to Keep the Feedback Conversation Out of the Ditch (Part 4 of The Fact & the Fundamental Lie)

Cat Fight Photo by Kevin Steele

Cat Fight Photo by Kevin Steele

Recapping parts 1-3…

Janice* runs the governance group for her company, and Rhonda* works for Janice in that group.  Over the course of time, Janice has developed a healthty distrust of Rhonda, although she’s never addressed it directly with Rhonda.  Anyone with two eyes and half an ear can observe that something isn’t right in that relationship.  Rhonda doesn’t really understand why Janice doesn’t like her, but she’s never engaged in that conversation, either.  Rhonda thinks she’s done her job well and doesn’t understand why she can “do no right” by Janice.  The last conversation started with Janice saying to Rhonda, “You always try to sabotage me”  and ended with two angry people who both think they are right.

How this could have gone differently….

Either one of these folks could have initiated a conversation a long time ago when they noticed the relationship going south.  Instead, each made up assumptions about the other and used them as excuses not to have the conversation (because there was no point, right?)

The other point to consider is whether either of them knows how to have this kind of conversation without making it worse.  How many of these have you had with a spouse or a colleage or a boss when it didn’t go the way you wanted it to?

Here’s what we all have to understand before we go into these types of discussions:

  • The other person has a point of view that he/she thinks is valid.   Listening to it and trying to understand it does not mean that we have to give up our own point of view.
  • No one wants to lose face.  The other person is in just as much danger of that happening as you are.
  • No one likes to be accused of something, especially when it flies in the face of a closely held value.  For instance, Rhonda believes that she operates with integrity, which to her means that she doesn’t have a hidden agenda.  Janice accusing her of sabotage was a threat to Rhonda’s vision of herself and how she wants others to perceive her. And, it was an accusation to defend.
  • Bullying someone into our point of view works in the short term, but it can irrevocably damage the relationship in the long term.  Why do that when there is a better way?

What’s the better way?  Change the purpose for having the conversation from making Rhonda see the error of her ways to making sure that each person understands where the other person is coming from.

I can hear the groans from some of you already.  Why bother, when all we really want is what we want?  Besides, Janice is the manager, and it should be her call, right?  My question back is would you rather be right or would you rather create a strong foundation from which to work, so that when disagreements happen, the entire relationship or project doesn’t get derailed?  Most people would choose the latter.

So, how do we do it?

We prepare.  We start thinking like an objective observer.  What could the other person’s story be?  If I were a consultant, what would I think about these two people? What if I don’t know everything I need to know.  Curiosity…That’s where we start the conversation.

Janice:  Rhonda, I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s been going on between us regarding the implementation of the governance process.  I’ve found the last few months to be frustrating and upsetting, and I suspect that you have, too.  What’s more troubling to me is that I think it has affected our ability to work together as well as we could.  I was wondering if you’d be up for talking about that?  I’d like to understand better what’s going on for you, how you feel about it, and then I’d like to share what’s been going on for me.

Let’s look at the parts.

Janice starts with telling Rhonda that this is important to her, because she’s been thinking about it a long time.  She acknowledges her own feelings as well as Rhonda’s. She mentions her concerns, and then, she ASKS FOR PERMISSION to have the conversation.  Important, because many conversations between people of unequal rank in the organization feel forced when you’re the one who’s lower on the totem pole.  Notice also that Janice’s stated purpose is understanding, not making Rhonda wrong.

That’s a lot better than, “You always try to undermine me.”  Yes?

Where Janice and Rhonda might need a coach is in the continuation of this conversation.  There is a skill an structure to taking these kinds of conversations out to the end in a productive, constructive way.  It’s very likely that Rhonda has her own habits and patterns that get in the way of her hearing what Janice is saying.

When intentions are good all around, these difficult conversations are the crux of conflict among individuals and groups.  Having an understanding of brain science and emotional intelligence empowers leaders to be more effective, more collaborative and this more productive.

Be Your Best You Today,


p.s. – Improve Performance NOW! helps leaders make these kinds of postive, effective conversations habit.  We provide frameworks for learning, role plays and practice, support and challenges to help our clients be their best selves.  If you’re interested in learning more about this program can benefit you or your group, register for an upcoming preview call today.

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Terri Schepps

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