Communicating Constructively in Challenging Times

July 20, 2021 Ken Blanchard

To succeed in the new, hybrid workplace, leaders need to be proficient in several skills. In my last blog, I talked about the free webinars our company is offering to guide leaders through today’s challenging business environment. (You can sign up for these on-demand webinars here.)

No skill is more important than the ability to communicate constructively. But you can’t become an expert communicator in one class. That’s why we’re offering a five-week online learning journey that gives people the tools to have tough conversations under pressure.

Blanchard’s Conversational Capacity Collaborative Online Course is based on the work of Craig Weber, who introduces his thinking in a free, one-hour webinar available here.

Handling Divisive Issues with Conversational Capacity

Craig defines conversational capacity as “The ability to engage in open, balanced, nondefensive dialogue about difficult subjects and in challenging circumstances.”

COVID-19 has disrupted business as usual and made it necessary for organizations to change and adapt. These changes put stress on organizations and raise divisive issues. A team with high conversational capacity can handle these painful issues, whereas a team with low conversational capacity can get derailed by minor differences of opinion.

Finding the Sweet Spot

Discussions—especially ones that involve decision making—should happen in what Craig calls “the sweet spot” between two conversational skills: candor and curiosity.

Candor—being open, honest, and even frank—is a good thing, in moderation. But as Craig points out, unhinged candor can go south fast. “The mind shuts, and the mouth opens,” he says. “Too much candor can make you arrogant and argumentative. That’s when you get conversations that spark more heat than light.”

Curiosity—an interest in what others have to say—is also a good thing, in moderation. But when people withdraw too much from the conversation, good ideas often go missing.

That’s why it’s important to have conversations where people express both candor and curiosity. “You may have a lot of smart people on the team but without conversational capacity, you can’t harness and use those smarts,” says Craig.

Staying in the Sweet Spot

The secret to staying in the sweet spot between candor and curiosity is to first become aware of any emotions you’re feeling. We all get triggered; the trick is to catch your emotional reaction to what someone is saying and consciously choose a balanced response.

In challenging conversations, feelings often compel us to do one of two things:

  • Minimize. This is when you feign agreement or withdraw from the conversation, usually to avoid conflict.
  • Win. This is when you become attached to your position. You express views as facts, stop listening, dismiss others’ views, pull rank, or even solicit allies to gang up on detractors.

So, what’s the antidote to minimizing and winning? The key is to have a learning mindset in conversations. If you tend to minimize, you must learn to develop candor. If tend to win, you must learn to develop curiosity.

I’m a people pleaser who doesn’t like conflict, so I tend to minimize. If you’re a minimizer like me, work on your capacity for candor by practicing these skills:

  1. State your position clearly. If you’re not sure what your position is, state that clearly: “I don’t know the answer, but I’m open to hearing more.”
  2. Show your work—in other words, explain how you arrived at your position. Show your thinking with evidence and data.

You might have grown up around a dinner table where heated arguments about politics and religion conditioned you to win.  To build your capacity for curiosity, practice these skills:

  1. Show you’re holding your position as a hypothesis by testing it with statements like, “What’s your take? Do you see this differently?”
  2. Once people state their views, inquire into them by saying things like, “Help me understand where you’re coming from. Tell me your thinking.”

When it comes to minimizing and winning, we all do both from time to time. Ask yourself:

  • Under what circumstances do I let my need to minimize get in the way of my effectiveness?
  • Under what circumstances do I let my need to win get in the way?

Practicing the Martial Art of Communication

Think of conversational capacity as a martial art—but the opponent is never the other person. The opponent is always our own ego. As Craig puts it, “If we want to stay in the conversational sweet spot, focused on learning, we have to take our ego to the mat.”

Earn Your Black Belt in Our August 2 – September 3 Online Course

If you want to master the martial art of conversational capacity, sign up for Blanchard’s Conversational Capacity Collaborative Online Course by registering here. The course runs Monday, August 2 through Friday, September 3.

About the Author

Ken Blanchard

Dr. Ken Blanchard is the cofounder and Chief Spiritual Officer of Blanchard®, an international management training and consulting firm. Ken is the coauthor of The One Minute Manager, as well as 65 other books with combined sales totaling more than 21 million copies.

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