Difficult conversations. The clue is in the title.

Chris Rodgers writes:

Life in organisations is unavoidably messier and more uncertain than the formal strategies structures systems and processes imply. And yet most discussions of organisational management and leadership practice remain firmly rooted in mainstream presumptions of certainty, predictability and control.

And this is all too apparent when you look at many approaches to training. People are tempted to reduce complex challenges to a set of ideas and guidelines. So we get seven steps to… insert whatever grand sounding idea you like here. The trainer produces a deck or manual and proceeds to demonstrate each of these principles to participants. And there’s often a nice test built in somewhere to reassure everyone that they really have learnt something. It’s all very tempting and it has its uses.

I’ve noticed, however, that workshops seem to get a lot more interesting when I am not teaching some predetermined set of ideas. When we get to things like how to deal with difficult people, it’s much more interesting to set up a miniature role play and then rapidly experiment to see what actually works. Without trying hard to get it right, or to prove some allegedly general principle. People get to experience some uncertainty and frustration… but they also have a chance to make real discoveries of their own.

And we all get to acknowledge the reality that some conversations really are just difficult. Without the patronising and quite disempowering notion that they are simple really, if you just learn the rules. As Chris puts it:

Most managers find it highly liberating to discover why there is a mismatch between their everyday lived reality and what conventional management ‘wisdom’ suggests should be happening.

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