Category Archives: Difficult Conversations

Difficult Conversations 7 – Shared Peril

If everyone in a group feels they are sharing in a challenge it can be quite a powerful experience. But there are potential downsides too. If the challenge isn’t really shared but used as an opportunity for some in the group to establish status over others, things can go awry. Likewise, if people feel press-ganged into “having fun” or an activity that is well outside their comfort zone. this can have some fairly unhappy consequences.

In this video, Kay and I talk about how working on difficult conversations can be made into a satisfying group experience and avoiding what I call “fun fascism”.

You can see all the videos in the series here.

Difficult conversations part 6 – Meeting room vs kitchen

So here’s the next video on Difficult Conversations (you can find the whole set here.) Kay and I have a bit of fun looking at the difference between surface politeness in formal meetings and the earthier version that comes out afterwards. Some of the best conversations happen when we manage to merge the streams a little better.

Difficult conversations part 5 – getting over ourselves

In the latest episode Kay Scorah and I talk about the idea of “getting over ourselves”. That can often sound like a rude instruction, but it’s possible to frame all learning as a process of leaving behind old ideas of who we are – ideas to which we can get rather attached.

We talk a bit about Otto Rank and I say more about him in this old post.

Parts OneTwoThree and Four

Teach people or get a better process? Both and neither

Nancy Dixon condenses years of practice and experience into a single post: What Makes Organizational Conversations Effective? Participant Skill or Skillful Design?.

I guess the very short answer to the question is: both. And I know Viv will be cheering this bit:

The most effective way to have learningful conversations in an organization is to disrupt the dysfunctional conversational practices that are occurring. Both training and skillful design can disrupt those patterns.

I think that any practice or recommended set of skills will create it’s shadow side. Even with a good model of how to carry on a conversation,  people will demonstrate compliance but still “cheat” (eg be well behaved in formal meetings and gossip in the corridors). Anyone involved will have to make judgements about whether this is just fine is in fact highly creative, or actually a bad thing… and then decide whether to act on that judgement. One man’s dysfunctional practice is another man’s creative process…

Prime time TV wisdom for difficult conversations

There are a couple of TV shows I’ve seen lately that remind me of the difficult conversations process.

In The Chase, a team of players compete against a quiz show wunderkind. They usually lose. The host always ends the show with the challenge to others to “come and have a go if you think you’re clever enough”. Because it’s one thing to sit at home coming up with answers, quite another to do it under the spotlight.

When running the difficult conversations role play in groups, the audience will often watch the scene being played and be full of suggestions for how to do it better. But rather than offer advice from the sidelines, we ask them to come up and step into the scene themselves. It’s often much harder than it looks..

Then the other night I was watching a dating show called Take Me Out (I was in a mood for some garish entertainment). We saw a man and woman on a date, with their reflective voice-overs narrating what happened. This couple seemed to be really hitting it off, until they came to dinner. They sat down, and then the woman’s voice over revealed she felt non-plussed because he hadn’t pulled the chair out for her. We then saw her become slightly sullen, and him subsequently struggling to keep the conversation going. It all went downhill from there.

For want of a nail..  On such misunderstandings has many a relationship faltered. It’s a reminder of how all sorts of things, often unspoken, go on in relationships and why they can sometimes be so frustrating.

Difficult conversations, part 4

Here’s the latest espisode on Difficult Conversations. (Parts One Two and Three). I made this one with my friend Kay Scorah.

We talk about arguments like “who left the top off the toothpaste tube” and why we may need to embrace the fact that we appear to fall out over apparently trivial things.

When I watched this back I saw all sorts of ways my little role play with Kay could have been done better. When we do this work in groups, that’s part of the fun, because the audience will think so too. And the we get them to step in and have a go themselves.

London workshop: Difficult Conversations

I’m going to run a one-day workshop on Difficult Conversations in London on February 20th. I’m doing with this my friend and collaborator Kay Scorah.

As we say in the blurb…

In this workshop we’ll encourage participants to experiment with different ways to have challenging conversations. With a big emphasis on playfully trying stuff out, and without putting too much effort into analysing or idealising. We think of it as the rapid prototyping of behaviour. It brings some of the wisdom of the maker and agile movements to the training sphere.

This is work I’ve been focussing on a lot lately, and it’s an approach I have used in places as far afield at the Solomon Islands and Berlin.  Book here.

And places are still available for a similar, half-day workshop in Cambridge on February 6th.