I visited Lewis-Manning hospice (pictured above), where they talk about death in a very positive way not using words to mask facts. It was a moving experience and I was impressed by the whole experience. I am a supporter, but that is not my point in writing. My point is, admiration for professionals who are effective by being honest. Simple as that. Professionals in care situations, when they get it right, say it how it is. Death cannot be avoided, so it is patronising, and in fact upsetting to speak of “passing away” to people you are helping. The choice of words in situations and context is important. I am a trustee director of a major charity and have worked with charities. I also help relatives in care. Honesty matters, in fact it works in challenging situations. I would draw attention to several examples of how straight talking works. I’d say let’s talk about life, death and success but be honest. Any deviation is a failed conversation – and here I am quoting Susan Scott, a great author, of “Fierce Conversations”. More of her in this article below. I will cover a variety of challenging but equally rewarding difficult work and home one-to-one conversations. The essence of all this is good listening, empathy, honesty, even if the method seems “fierce”.
Sharing Bad News
The best guide to speaking honestly and frankly in our view is Susan Scott, author of Fierce Conversations CEO of Fierce. Susan Scott asserts the need to speak frankly in order to be effective when having difficult conversations in business particularly, but it relates to any area of human relations. I would suggest being honest about any challenging situation is essential, with colleagues, suppliers, relatives, friends and loved ones. It is simple, focused, kind but tough. Scott writes, “A careful conversation is a failed conversation.” The conversation, is the relationship. One conversation at a time. Be here, and nowhere else. Take responsibility for your emotional wake. Let silence do the heavy lifting. A couple of key bullet point lists from her book are…
Common Mistakes in One-To-One Conversations:
- Doing most of the talking
- Taking the problem away from someone
- Not inquiring about feelings
- Delivering unclear messages, coaching, instructions
- Cancelling the meeting
- Allowing interruptions
- Running out of time
- Assuming your meetings are effective
Scott says,”Fierce conversations cannot be dependent on how others respond.” “If you know something must change, then know that it is you who must change it. Your job is to extend the invitation.”
The Confrontation Model:
- Opening Statement
- Name the issue
- Select a specific example that illustrates the behaviour or situation you want to change
- Describe your emotions about this issue
- Clarify what is at stake
- Identify your contribution to this problem
- Indicate your wish to resolve the issue
- Invite the other person you are talking to, to respond
- Ask about their view
- Where are we now, what needs to be said and resolved
- Make a new agreement – agree how you will hold each other responsible
More Case Studies of Fierce Conversations in Practice
Dorset Business Angels – the Results after Pitches
We have successful pitches when investors want to invest. But some pitches fail to attract the interest that the presenters hope for. Presenters, get 10 minutes to present. 5 minutes for Q&A’s then, they leave the room, and investors discuss the viability and appeal of the investment. Is anyone wanting to invest? Of course there may be investors after the meeting but the initial response is critical. At our last event, as I write, we had investor interest in all four presentations, which is great! But the reality is that from the hundreds of pitches, despite careful selection, inevitably some don’t excite investor interest. As General Manager, a founder director and the main organiser of our events at Dorset Business Angels, it’s my job to leave the room and tell the expectant presenters the situation. Tell them feedback after they have presented. They are always excited, filled with adrenalin. It’s pretty heart breaking to say there is zero interest. But it is only right to be honest. What the entrepreneurs want and need to hear is helpful feedback which may include:
- Is the business proposition viable?
- Is the team seen as viable / capable? Particularly the CEO
- Is the business plan – ROI, financials and so on viable?
- Was the presentation good? Did the investors understand the ideas?
What you may see from the above is helpful feedback which if honestly and constructively relayed, this usually receives a positive response. Entrepreneurs realise they need to present to a range of investors, so need feedback. Substantive, meaningful, detailed, directed, informative, evidenced feedback supported by ideas and names and referrals, as relevant, works well for entrepreneurs. DBA has its good name to think of, plus we want to see deals done. It might well be the presenters could return or tell others about us. So we need to do a good and fair job.
Supplier Deals and Termination
It’s important as a supplier, to get clear feedback for presentations, bids and quotes when unsuccessful. In the long run it can be more helpful than actually winning the contract. When we are working with suppliers, it’s too easy to forget about giving feedback and move on to just working with the chosen supplier. This is bad practice. Reasons to share feedback with suppliers include:
- The need to maintain good relations for future supply
- Word gets round, suppliers belong to trade associations and networks
- Today’s supplier can be tomorrow’s buyer
- A supplier can easily be a social contact – embarrassing and unpleasant if you or one of your team are disrepectful
Redundancy – Friendships – Family Communications
You can see a picture is emerging. The way you or I behave when sharing bad, challenging or frank news with people has a number of effects:
- It helps them improve
- It builds trust with you
- It’s a demonstration of a serious initial engagement, with potential future opportunities
- Despite what might seem as a “failure”, the relationship paradoxically is building, to use a hackneyed phrase: this is a journey
Being Honest with Oneself
When I thought about the various, specific situations, delivering bad news – delivering frank news to people – I came up with a perhaps surprising audience: oneself. How many of us really have a fierce personal conversation with that really critical audience: oneself? Perhaps it’s time to be fair to ourselves. And just as others give credit to you for that honesty, so we can all feel better for that honesty. Here are some ideas:
- Am I happy with my job?
- Happy with my family, home and social life?
- Have I achieved what I want to?
- Do I have a plans for different aspects of my life?
- Would I like me if I met me?
So this is how straight talking works. Whether looking in the mirror or dealing with difficult situations. Let’s talk about life, death and success but be honest. Difficult work and home one-to-one conversations. The essence of all this is good listening, empathy, honesty, even if it seems “fierce”.
Peter Eales BA Hons Chartered Marketer FCIM FIDM
Founder Director Dorset Business Angels
MD o i solutions limited