Tag: anxiety

Good day, team.

I’ve been reading a good book called “Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most” by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen, and would like to share some of it with you this week.

Plain and simple, a difficult conversation is anything you find hard to talk about. Whether at work or home, we all face the unpleasant feelings that come up when we know we need to have a difficult conversation with someone.

Here are some great examples:

Firing or laying off employees
Letting a client know that the project you bid on will be twice as expensive as your original quote
Telling a sibling or friend that they need to pay back the money you loaned
Explaining to one of your parents that he or she needs to move into an assisted living center
Describing to a team member that their behaviors are having a negative impact on the rest of the team

This list could go on and on. I’m sure you can remember the last difficult conversation you had and how it made you feel.

At the first thought of talking to the other person, we begin to feel dread and anxiety. Because of our aversion to these anxious feelings, we often talk ourselves out of having the conversation. Unfortunately, the longer we put it off, the greater the anxiety becomes. No matter how you spin it, delivering a difficult message feels like throwing a hand grenade, and as they say in the book, “There is no such thing as a diplomatic hand grenade.”

So, what’s the answer? By taking an in-depth look at what’s actually happening when we attempt to have these tough talks, we can become more aware of the opportunities that the hard conversations can create for all parties involved.

The book presents the idea that each difficult conversation is actually three conversations: What happened? What are we feeling? How are we identifying with this situation?

What Happened – the facts
Most difficult conversations involve disagreement about what has happened or what should happen. For example, a client thought a project was going to be completed within a certain timeframe and now it is well beyond the set deadline. The consultant says she informed the client that the deadline would have to be pushed out since project requirements had changed.

The truth is, these difficult conversations are not really about getting the facts right. According to the book’s authors, “They are about conflicting perceptions, interpretations and values. They are not about what a contract says but about what a contract means.”

Instead of arguing about what happened, the trick is to get to the real intention of a conversation. And the real intention (How can we move forward and get this project completed?) can remain invisible unless it is stated up front. Because we all act with mixed intentions from time to time, it can be difficult to understand what our intentions are, let alone express them. Taking some time to clarify our intentions before we start a difficult conversation is one way to mitigate the anxiety. Expressing your intention up front shows your listener that no matter how confusing the facts are, your intention is still the same. And, most important, you can avoid the blame that often results from making negative assumptions about the other person’s intentions.

Every difficult conversation asks and answers questions about feelings. “Engaging in a difficult conversation without talking about feelings is like staging an opera without music,” write Stone, Patton and Heen. They advise us to share our feelings in difficult conversations. If you’re under pressure to meet a deadline and it is making you feel stress, say so. If you’re having anxiety about discussing the challenging situation, name it. The other person will feel your anxiety anyway, and owning what’s happening to you in the moment will let the listener know that this message is as hard for you to deliver as it may be for him or her to hear it.

Hurt feelings are often at the heart of anxiety in a tough exchange with someone, and not speaking about them is a way of avoiding the real issue. Of course, sometimes we need to let sleeping dogs lie to not exacerbate a situation. More often than not, however, honesty about what’s happening to us in the moment and describing our feelings with clarity and sincerity is always a good practice.

For every difficult conversation, we have an internal debate with ourselves about what the situation means to us. For example, the client maybe be asking herself, “What did I do wrong here? I thought we were on the same page in terms of how this project would go. Did I not manage it correctly? How will my boss feel about my hiring him to do this in the first place?”

It’s likely that the contsultant is having his own internal dialogue stemming from their own identifications with the situation: “I’m responsible for getting this project done, and I’ve totally disappointed my client. I can’t afford to have him see me this way.”

If we weren’t having this internal dialogue, it’s unlikely that the conversation would be so difficult. That’s because we’ve identified with the situation and the stakes have been elevated with a challenge. We may begin to ask ourselves deep questions about who we are and what we are doing.

Try asking for a raise. Many questions start to come up as we attempt to put our identity on the line: “Will my boss think I’m worth it? Do I think I’m worth it? What happens if I get turned down?” No one likes to blow their own horn because we don’t want to seem self-centered. The irony is that it’s just as self-centered to focus our inner thoughts on what people think about us as it is to act from conceit. The focus is still all about us and the real message — the facts about our achievements — never gets delivered.

Your challenge
This week, spend some time thinking about the three aspects of difficult conversations. Spend time identifying your intention before you even start the conversation. What’s the result you’re trying to achieve? Don’t be afraid to express your feelings with sincerity and acknowledge that your listener is having his or her own set of feelings during the conversation. Try not to project your inner dialogue into the conversation. Understand the difference between how you see yourself delivering the message and the actual delivery by focusing on how the other person receives your message. Both identities are being challenged in the conversation so don’t be afraid to express how you see that.

As Stone, Patton and Heen advise, “Spend seven minutes and save seven hours later. The earlier you raise an issue, catch a misunderstanding or ask a question to clarify intentions, the sooner you clear it up and move on. The longer you let things fester, the bigger the problem becomes.” So, invest a few minutes and be skillful in delivering your message to save you and everyone in your organization time, money and a tremendous amount of frustration.

Have a good week!

© Copyright 2012 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.

10/2/11 “Competition”

Good day, team.

This week’s challenge is about competition. First, let me share a recent experience. A few weeks ago, I learned that Missoni, a famous, high-end Italian design house, would put a limited release of clothing and household items into Target stores. Some smart marketing person at Target came up with the bright idea that if you could convince high-end designers to create an exclusive line just for Target, at low Target prices, their stuff would sell like hot cakes and it would broaden their brand recognition across a more diverse customer base. Knowing

For example, typical Missoni dresses sell for $800 to $2,500. At Target, a dress of the same style in a somewhat inferior fabric would sell for $60. Now, that’s what I call a bargain! Knowing how much I admired Missoni’s clothes and that a good friend of mine was also a fan, I marked my calender for the day of the sale.

So at 7:30 a.m. on the morning of September 13, I drove to a Target that I deemed less popular than others and joined the 10-person line forming at the door. “Hey, this is good,” I thought. “I can compete against 10 other people.”

Securing my fanny pack (you have to have your arms and hands free to grab the goods) stuffed with credit cards, cash and my cell phone, in case my good friend called with a last minute request, I anxiously waited for the doors to open. I began to notice that we were all jockeying for position. People were inching up toward the doors, and occasionally, a more aggressive participant would nudge someone. As the minutes ticked by, our anticipation grew, and the tension was palpable. I have to admit, I was becoming anxious myself. My heart rate increased, and I could feel the competitive urges in me growing.

Finally, the doors opened. The first person in line, a very tall, domineering woman, ran inside and went up to the first rack of Missoni clothing. She opened her arms wide, grabbed both ends of an entire rack of clothes, lifted everything up in one fell swoop and threw it all into her cart. The game was on — it was every woman for herself! I soon realized that looking for the right size or style was not possible. I joined in the frenzy, throwing anything I could grab into my cart before running to the next Missoni display. Pity the poor store clerk who had just opened a box of Missoni socks and tights. Before he could set up the display, we surrounded him like locusts in a field and gobbled up the items right out of the box as if he wasn’t even there.

Seven minutes after the doors opened, nothing was left on the displays — not a sweater, skirt, blouse, shoe or sock. Every piece of merchandise was in someone’s overladen shopping cart, and as I looked around, I could see the expressions of victory and bewilderment on people’s faces. What just happened? How did we get so swept up in the insanity of competition for this stuff? It was as though we were starving and had to compete for the last few sacks of rice.

I realized I had to find a place in the store where I could go through my items and figure out which ones I actually wanted to buy. As I searched for a place to discretely make my choices, I happened upon a mother with her two teenage daughters who were doing the same. We were all embarrassed to look at each other. The past seven minutes hadn’t brought out the best in any of us, and we knew it. When I suggested that I go get an empty cart to use for our rejects, I saw relief on their faces. The opportunity to share made all of us feel better.

As we tried on various items and talked about what we’d selected, we began to laugh and joke about how crazy the competition had been. Each of us had seen a competitive side to our nature that in its determination to win had only one goal in mind: get the goods. Upon reflection, it all seemed like a crazy thing to do, particularly when you found items in your cart that were two sizes too big or something you would never wear even if someone gave it to you for free.

You could say that I accomplished my aim. I got some goods at a great price. But as I walked out of the store with a cart full of white plastic bags filled with items for me and my friend, I felt a little sick to my stomach. Was it the lack of breakfast or too much coffee before the early morning frenzy that brought about the nausea? Or was it the anticipation and anxiety I felt as I had rushed through the store? Perhaps it was the sudden realization that I had just spent a fair amount of money on clothes that I didn’t need, while people all over the planet actually do compete for that last bag of rice.

Four hours after Target sold out of most of the Missoni items, they began to show up on eBay for four and five times the price. Angry online customers sent vituperous Tweets and emails to Target complaining about their inability to buy online because the Target site crashed soon after the items became available. The following day, every major U.S. newspaper and newsfeed ran a story about Missoni at Target.

I believe competition in games and sport has its rightful place. We enjoy watching people win, especially when it’s our team, and the heightened inner state that occurs when we achieve our goals is a glorious experience. But when it comes at the expense of others, competition can seem displaced. Something about my shopping experience made me feel like my competitive instincts were not used for the common good.

This week, take a look at what you’re competing for. Do you find yourself at work getting overly aggressive like the woman who grabbed an entire rack of clothing in one fell swoop? Is the thing you’re competing for worth it? Perhaps you’re competing for a promotion or more attention from your boss or a family member. Have you ever competed in a passive aggressive way by withholding information from someone?

Two weeks after my shopping spree, the Missoni items hang in my closet with the tags still on them. I haven’t decided whether I’ll keep everything or return some of them. My husband reminds me that I work hard and deserve to splurge on myself once in awhile. And much of what I bought is just downright cute and will be fun to wear. But on the morning of September 13, I saw a part of myself that I am not particularly proud of. For someone who likes to say that her religion is kindness, I wonder who that person was who showed up at Target that morning?

Have a good week,


© Copyright 2011 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.