MLA 2015: Limitless Leaders in our Institutions

Difficult Conversations: Strategies to Make Sure They Enhance Rather than Ruin Your Leadership – Madeline Maxwell

  • people need validation
  • agreement does not equal validation
  • goals
    • interpret the motivation behind behavior and how to make it work for you
    • learn skills to defuse an elevated situation and get a (potentially) difficult person collaborating
    • be able to address difficult conversations amicably and build better professional relationships
    • recognize and avoid the pitfalls of difficult professional communication
  • combat vs curious mentality
    • combat: 2 sides, Keep It Simple Stupid, contempt, fight/flight extremes
    • curious: 3 sides, complexity & priorities, respect for problem & person, probe & consider (instead of hunkering down and pulling out the guns)
  • perseverance is good if you made a good assessment; creativity is good if your assessment is lacking or the attempted resolution isn’t working
  • listening: to learn, to get the goods, to show you care, to plan a good response (strategic listening)
  • every conversation is potentially an EPIC
    • emotion, process (microaggressions), identity, cosmic meaning (the big deal)
      • ex: talking on phone in public — annoyed vs hulk rage? why is it bugging you so much? does the other person have a different relationship with space?
  • don’t react, respond
    • reacting is automatic, like a knee jerk
    • responding requires consideration
  • how to destroy a relationship
    • hypercriticism all the time
    • defensiveness
    • contempt
    • stonewalling
  • repair tactics:
    • criticism — use gentle start ups
    • defensiveness — take responsibility
    • contempt — describe your own feelings and needs (not those of the other)
    • stonewalling — do some self-soothing
  • change an old behavior
    • unfreeze: identify the need to change, self sooth, plan for change
    • Change: notice triggers
    • refreeze: set new pattern
  • preparation & response
    • prepare
      • what is the problem?
      • what would they say the problem is?
      • what’s my preferred outcome?
      • what’s my preferred working relationship with them?
    • responding
      • stay curious
      • be considerate
      • listen and inquire
      • keep your focus
  • provide reassurance
    • give an agenda (ex: you did X wrong, but I want to resolve the problem)
  • ask why 9 times — treat people’s responses as symptoms, not answers
  • powerful questions
    • what do you think
    • what leads you to think that?
    • what would you like to accomplish?
    • what is the most important thing to you?
    • what do you suggest we do?
    • is any of this negotiable?
    • what else should i ask you?
  • how to begin: share an agenda
  • tell them you wan to give them what you want
    • make eye contact
    • make welcome
    • explain/ask for delay
    • then make overs signs of giving attention
    • her’s what i need to give you what you want
  • stick to one point
  • show understanding; repeat their communication back to them
  • professional situation
    • tell what is in your power
    • explain restrictions
    • offer other help
  • when they need to go
    • stand up and extend hand to shake
    • “thanks for coming”
    • computer mode platitudes (“people get irritated when they can’t find things”)
  • some people may seem impossible
    • 2 kinds: negative people (debbie downers) and toxic people (tricksters, bullies, schemers)
    • negative people need validation but also need to be contained
    • selective listening: focus on the problem, not the people
    • pleasant but brief — never be alone
    • ask their advice about something specific
    • give them a task they are good at
    • have them work in a group or team
  • know your goal: compliance or collaboration
  • toxic
    • never get in a thread of electronic messages
    • never leave a message complaining
    • never keep it to yourself

Panel Discussion

  •  you can’t be in a rush and you can’t demean a person
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