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. These 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 from a group meant death.
Without realizing it, the same fight-flight-appease reactions occur today whenever we feel threatened. Whoever initiates an uncomfortable conversation risks being rejected by the other, and the other person in turn defends themselves for fear of being rejected. This is what makes these tough conversations. We’re not really communicating because we’re focused on protecting ourselves.
Knowing this is power. What if, instead of seeing these situations as threatening, we saw them as opportunities to make our tribe smarter, stronger, more capable of excellence and creativity? What if these were labeled “success conversations”? If we reframe these situations in this way, we will be more likely to address them immediately—when the stakes are much lower. We can bring a different frame of mind and attitude to the conversation—one that is more open, curious and eager on both sides. We can be more inclined to ask questions and offer support in ways that uplift others. And we will be more likely to be encouraging and celebrate successes. This means we would truly be communicating with one another, connecting and strengthening our relationship and the group.
Here’s an example: Say that a colleague’s work does not measure up to your standards. The first time it happens, you take up the slack, make adjustments and complete the work. You don’t say anything because you don’t want to ruin your relationship with the colleague....
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