What if tough conversations were only tough because of our mindset? Most of us use this label when we don’t know how to have a conversation without hurting someone’s feelings or telling someone they are wrong. Such situations threaten our sense of belonging, which is a primary survival instinct for all of us. Our nervous systems are wired much the same as they were 50,000 years ago when rejection meant death. Without realizing it, the same fight-flight-flee-appease reactions occur today whenever we feel threatened. Whoever initiates such a conversation risks being rejected by the other, and the other person defends themselves for fear of being rejected. This is what makes these tough conversations. We’re not really communicating. We’re protecting ourselves.
Knowing this is power! We are the ones making meaning of situations that seem to call for tough conversations. What if instead we saw these situations as opportunities to make our tribe smarter, stronger, more capable of excellence and creativity? What if we instead labeled these success conversations? If we reframed these situations in this way, we would be more likely to address them immediately – when the stakes are much lower. We would bring a different frame of mind and attitude to the conversation—one that was more open, curious, and eager, on both sides. We would be more inclined to ask questions and offer support in ways that uplifted. And we would be more likely to be encouraging and celebrate successes. This means we would truly be communicating with one another: Connecting and strengthening our relationships and the group.
To see how easy it is to have success conversations, check out the critical feedback given by school children in Austin’s Butterfly. Notice the tone in their voices as they critique his butterfly. Watch their body language as they offer suggestions. Witness how they reinforce his improvements and how they celebrate with utter joy his final picture. As adults, we’re not likely to have a conversation with Austin to correct his mistakes because we don’t want to hurt his feelings; after all, he’s just a little boy. But look what he is capable of after a series of success conversations!
Next time you face a tough conversation ask yourself a few questions that will help you turn it into a conversation worth having: A success conversation:
- How might I be an advocate for success (my own or the other’s) in this conversation?
- What might be possible if together we discover what needs changing to turn the current situation into success or excellence?
- How am I contributing to the problem and how might I be part of the solution?
- What don’t I know that I can only discover by asking questions? (What’s going on for the other person? What do they know that I don’t? What do I know that they need to know? What is needed for success?)
Choose to be part of creating a climate of excellence. Stop thinking about having tough conversations and start having success conversations!