Tag Archives: motivation

having successful difficult conversations means taking the time to listen and to be vulnerable. And that's freaking scary.

The scary thing that makes a good workplace great

A little while back I wrote about the one thing that can make a good workplace great, the tolerance for taking risks and making mistakes.

If I were to pick another Big Scary Audacious Goal (which is a more unfortunate acronym than Big Hairy Audacious Goal..?), it would be the ability to have difficult conversations. Even more than tolerating mistakes, this is by far the most difficult skill I’ve had to work on in my career, and I’m not even close to perfection.

having successful difficult conversations means taking the time to listen and to be vulnerable. And that's freaking scary. Screwing up the courage to face a difficult situation head-on by having a tough conversation is something that could make any relationship go either way: it can lead to working better and becoming closer to the other person, or it could lead to a separation (if you’re lucky, a separation that leaves both people with positive feelings towards each other).

Having successful difficult conversations means taking the time to listen, and to be vulnerable.

And that’s freaking scary.

In fact, both these shifts that can change a workplace culture into a great one have that one thing in common: a willingness to show vulnerability.

I believe the more people talk about those difficult conversations they’ve had, the more acceptable it will be to have more of them. And I believe it’s the role of communication professionals to encourage more intentional, face-to-face communication skills among those we advise. The most useful professional development event I attended last spring was from IABC-BC — Speak Up: Important Conversations. All the speakers were amazing, but Tracey Wimperly’s talk really resonated with me:

“We do business with people, not entities…Conversation between people is where the magic happens … We are coaches and convenors of conscious interpersonal communications … Talking points are great for content, but do our leaders know how to really listen? Do they demonstrate empathy? The soft skills are really the hard stuff … Are our leaders comfortable with the soft skills?” – Tracey Wimperly

People, particularly those in leadership positions, need to signal loud and clear that they are open to having the difficult conversations, by their words and their actions. They need to be vulnerable in order to encourage their employees to feel supported enough to take risks and contribute the whole of their talents and skills.

I was reminded of that again when I listened to Brett Gajda’s podcast, Where There’s Smoke; the episode Be Seen (Vulnerability), with Bobby Umar. Brett practices what he preaches – my partner and I saw him speak at an event the other night, and I envy the people who get to work with him. In the Be Seen episode he gives an example that is so raw and compelling, I choked up thinking of similar examples from my own career.

Here’s one leader who also certainly fits the bill: Dan Pontrefact (you lucky Telus employees, having him on your leadership team!), who has embraced the Working Out Loud movement (Yay!) and wrote a pretty raw piece on why his next book is postponed.

In fact, if I’m ever asked again in an interview what I consider my biggest weakness, I’d probably have to be honest and say: “I find it extraordinarily stressful to have the difficult conversations that must sometimes happen in a professional situation. And I’m working hard on getting better at it, because if you can have difficult conversations where the other person feels valued and respected, even if you have to part ways in the end, you have a stronger relationship because of it.”

Here’s Tracey’s entire talk. It’s well worth eight minutes of your time, especially if you are, like me, a communications professional:

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punk guitar

Weekly picks March 23-29

Here’s what I’m reading and listening to this past week:

Reading:

Not Telling, by Alice Mattison

I wish I could say I am writing 2,000 words per day on my first novel while I’m between work assignments, but I’m not yet in that habit. Instead, I’m reading about writing and calling it creative procrastination. Truth is, if I ever am writing something big, I will probably tell no one until it’s done, not even my partner. That’s why I was pleased to come across this article about writing as a private activity: “I secretly do research, buy books and never say why, and don’t ask for information I need unless I can disguise the reason. I once went to an exhibit in a nearby city about trolley cars (I was writing a novel about them) and never told my husband I had left town that day. It is like having an affair.”

N.B. I read the New York Times a lot . So much so that I usually use up my ten free article per month. It’s probably worth subscribing. After all, I would love to get paid for writing, which means someone has to buy it, right?

I (re)learned one thing from writing 212 blog posts in 2014, by Jonathan Anthony

I saw Anthony @ThisMuchWeKnow speak at a holiday IABC event last December, and was mightily impressed. I’ve been devouring all This Much We Know posts I missed, mainly because from December – end of February I neglected my personal projects (including this site), to my own detriment. As this post concludes: “Here’s to more messing around and showing up in 2015.”

Moral Disorder, by Margaret Atwood

An actual, physical book, that I signed out physically from the public library. Don’t that beat all?  When I wandered into the central branch (AKA “Caprica City Hall” ) last week, I didn’t find any of the books actually on my list, so I put a couple of holds and went with a previously unread book by a reliable standby author. My motto is: there are so many good books I haven’t read, I don’t waste time on something that doesn’t grab me. Atwood always grabs me.

Podcasts:

Reply All

On the recommendation of one of the other podcasts I listen to regularly, I’m catching up on Reply All, a new podcast about the internet, hosted by PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman. I’ve listened to the first four episodes and I’m a fan.

Los Frikis, Radiolab

punk guitarThis is an episode I would have expected from This American Life, as it is somewhat of a departure for RadioLab. I won’t give it all away, because it’s a compelling story that unfolds as you listen, but I will say it’s about the punk movement in Cuba (“frikis” is pronounced like the English”freakies”) and you should go listen to it right away.

The Journey Within, The Dirtbag Diaries

I hold onto my days spent climbing cliffs outdoors via the occasional DirtBag Diaries podcast. In this episode, Chris Kalman, a true “dirtbag,” who lives simply in order to climb more, faces a difficult choice after he commits to going to Patagonia on the climbing trip of a lifetime.

It occurs to me, after the post where I interviewed some friends about their sports injuries requiring surgery, that I could make some of my posts into podcasts. After all, Ken has a great mic around here that he uses in his teaching, and I did start out my communications career as a broadcaster …

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Listening for the answers to the right questions

Yesterday morning, reading the news over morning coffee, I said to Ken out of the blue: “Know what I really would do if I won a big lottery? I’d become Vancouver’s full-time philanthropist.”

Since I’ve been thinking about where I want to end up, where I want my skills to take me, this is probably a big clue.

Two people separately sent me a link to a volunteer opportunity this past weekend. They both read the description and immediately thought of me because a) the skills requirements match my skill set and b) it would be a way of meeting more Vancouver people and getting to know this town better.

Asking the right questions is the first step. Listening quietly for the answer is the next.

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