Prepare Your Team for Risky Discussions
Consistently, one of the lowest-ranked questions in the Better Teams Assessment is “Team members give timely and tactful feedback to each other, and do NOT talk behind each other’s backs”. As humans, being candid with others about what we need, think, and/or feel can be very challenging. When trust is low, it can be especially difficult to muster up the courage to start a tough conversation.
The reason it's hard is because we're wired to protect ourselves.
Going into a potentially volatile conversation is risky. Any number of “bad” things might happen, including:
- We hear something that we don’t want to hear about ourselves
- We make an enemy of someone and they don’t like us, or worse retaliate
- We lose control emotionally and do something we regret or we embarrass ourselves
- We hurt the other person, and then they pull back from us
I was recently in a situation where I was afraid to share my true thoughts because I didn’t want to rock the boat. Instead, I held in my anger and hurt inside for a long time. It didn’t serve me or the relationship. Once we finally had the conversation, it was a relief and I believe we both learned and emerged in a healthier place.
Because this is challenging for most people, it can be helpful to prime a team for candid conversations. Here is an activity designed to prepare team members for challenging conversations by establishing an understanding of each other and building trust.
- Before the discussion, share the following questions and ask each person to think about their answers. Do not put people on the spot to answer these questions.
- On a scale of 1-10, how easy/difficult is it for you to be 100% candid with your team members?
- What circumstances make it easier for you to have a challenging conversation?
- What circumstances make it difficult for you to have a challenging conversation?
- What are your fears/concerns when entering into a challenging conversation?
- What do you want your team members to know about you when there is a need for a challenging conversation?
- Before beginning a discussion with these questions, set the stage by encouraging them to practice being candid and honest in their responses. Talk about what a safe space is and how there are no right/wrong answers here. Encourage everyone to listen to understand each other.
- Go through the questions in order. The earlier questions are safer and may be easier to answer. As the questions progress, they become more personal, and team members may feel more vulnerable answering them.
- A closing question for this exercise is: What did you learn today that will be useful in future challenging conversations? This will end the conversation with a growth-minded, positive tone.
This exercise can work in small teams assuming there is ample time to share meaningful responses, and it is facilitated in a way that everyone feels safe to express themselves. You can also use this in one-to-one conversations.
It takes time and effort to build trust and have difficult conversations. This exercise is an example of one step it takes to move towards a healthy environment and relationships.
About the Author: Leigh Ann Rodgers, Founder of Better Teams, Team Consultant Academy, and FORWARD, is an IAF Certified Professional Facilitator with 20 years of experience in the human development field. Leigh Ann is a skilled meeting facilitator, trainer, and coach working across the globe to help leaders cultivate teams that are happy and high-performing.
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