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How Not To Have A Fierce Conversation

I have been reading the book Fierce Conversations. It has helped me to have a much more direct approach to difficult conversations, especially the ones that you really want to put off because they are so uncomfortable.

Recently at Integrum we have been undergoing a lot of deep, radical change, more about that in a later post. This has required me to have some very honest conversations with my entire team, much of it unpleasant. I don’t like confrontation; I don’t like to tell people that they need to move on (as in: time to work somewhere else). I’ve had to do that many times in the last few months. Reading this book has completely changed my approach. I don’t have it down to a science yet, and it’s not my first inclination, but I’m working hard to improve myself and my communication style.

Interestingly enough, today I got a letter in the mail: no return address, unfamiliar handwriting on the front. Anthrax jokes ensued. What was inside was almost as dangerous.

Jade
Jade everyone really likes and respects you. No one is denying you have a great business model with Gangplank and Integrum. But lately a day doesn’t go by without hearing something negative you have said about someone else. It seems your ego is getting in the way of your business. It hardly seems that the founder of Gangplank should be bad mouthing people constantly. We know you are smart, but that doesn’t mean everyone else is stupid. The foundation you are seeking to build is exactly the foundation you are destroying.

After the initial shock wore off, I started thinking… Wow, thank you anonymous person (that’s sarcasm by the way, one of my greatest gifts (that’s double sarcasm, Inception sarcasm)). It’s great that you feel that way, but now what? How do I ask questions? How do I get real feedback? Am I really doing this? This kind of Anonymous complaining is not helpful at all. It saddens me that whoever wrote this thought they were being courageous by sending this letter, but in reality, revealed the opposite. Engaging in a direct conversation addressing your issues with someone is one of the bravest things you can ever do.

Derek Neighbors recently wrote a post called You Can’t Handle The Truth, where he talks about dealing with people’s criticism of you. He states you have two choices Ignore the Criticism, or Fix the Problem. The challenge with Anonymous feedback is it’s impossible to know what to do… you can only look inside your own mind. It’s very difficult to be completely honest with yourself. How can you not be influenced by your own perceptions?

No man was ever so much deceived by another as by himself.
– Fulke Greville

So how do I deal with something like this? The honest truth is I don’t let things like this bother me too much. I try every day to be the best person I know how to be. Somedays I am a failure, but the path to being human is about the grace we extend to each other every new day, and challenging each other to rise to new heights. We are losing this skill as a race; too afraid to challenge, too afraid to speak up, too afraid to sign your own name. That’s why I’m publishing this here, radical transparency is scary, I really don’t want everyone to know that someone thinks these kinds of things about me. What will my mother say?

Here’s to pushing myself and to a better tomorrow!

The human race is a race of cowards; and I am not only marching in that procession but carrying a banner.
– Mark Twain

 

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Comments

  1. I feel you might be missing several things.

    Firstly, while it may not be “courageous” for someone to submit and anonymous letter, there could be many reasons for it. Perhaps they feel you cannot be trusted? Perhaps they feel you would not be rational in your response? Perhaps they feel it would damage them personally? Perhaps they feel you would be spiteful? Again, not mature, but reasons do exist.

    I’ve found in my many years leading people that it is I who has to set the tone and how people will ultimately interact with me is a direct reflection of how I _have_ interacted with them or they have _seen_ me interact with others. I suggest you take the time to do some self evaluation; perhaps you have work to do.

    And, on Derek’s comment about ignoring the advise or fixing the problem. This is commonly called a false dilemma ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_dilemma). It is often used to show juxtaposed sides and make it seem you have only a black and white response when in fact there are many, many shade of gray.

    I applaud you for reading the book and trying to better yourself, keep it up.

    • Thanks for the input. I am certain I have work to do. I have failed at doing the right thing many, many times. But I am also pretty open about that. Whoever wrote this certainly feels they know me enough to judge me, but not well enough to know that I ask for, and am appreciative of, direct feedback. I’ve had some excruciating conversations with many people in the past, without retaliation or spite. I try to be fair with people, and try to honor their humanity. I would appreciate the same in return.

      Lots to ponder…

  2. I’d rather send a box of poo to someone in the mail than waste my time sending a note like that. I mean…at least then there isn’t any confusion about the message I want to convey. :)

  3. Hi Jade! I wanted to share with you a way that my former boss would handle these types of conversations. He would start out “I have some uncomfortable news/information.” I always found that to be extremely effective because I always knew what to expect and it prevented him from having to wrangle with the proper way to set up the delivery of the news. I am super direct and if something is wrong, I want to know immediately, so I always appreciated his approach to potentially uncomfortable conversations.

  4. Jiva DeVoe says:

    Jade:

    I don’t work with you, and don’t know you that well, but in our brief interactions, you’ve always been pleasant to me, and I like you and what you’re doing at Gangplank. Since I don’t know you that well, however, take what I say here with a grain of salt.

    So, your response to the letter was to attack the person who wrote it. Thus, is it any wonder why they sent it anonymously?

    It seems to me that’s the whole point here isn’t it? That rather than viewing this as an opportunity for introspection and consideration of what this person has perceived as negativity on your part, you’re instead… well.. spreading more negativity?

    Granted, no one wants to receive a letter like this… and yes, without the opportunity to talk to the person, it does make it more difficult to glean exactly what issues need to be resolved. But in the end, it’s better to simply see it for what it is, which is someone who likes you, who felt the need to just inform you that maybe you need to think a bit about the energy you’re projecting and see if you can improve that.

    You can absolutely view that person as not having balls. And hey, you can call it as you see it there… whatever… but I think that’s a red herring, and won’t help the situation whatsoever. If you can get something from the letter… even just a red flag that maybe you need to do some thinking… it seems like that’s the only intent.

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