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What tribes do you belong to right now?

Humans are social beings and our workplaces represent a powerful tribe.  

“I am looking forward to going to work today. I am meeting with my manager who has flagged we are going to have a ‘difficult conversation”

..... said no one ever about ‘difficult conversations’.

Our sense of belonging to our tribe is essential for our well-being, and when our place in the tribe feels compromised, our primitive or limbic brain goes on high alert.   

Our limbic brain reads a threat to ego as equivalent to a threat to life, triggering our amygdala to expel the stress hormone, cortisol.  This stems back to our primitive existence when being excluded from the tribe meant certain death.  

While the amygdala still serves a purpose when we are under physical threat, we now have the prefrontal cortex to help us manage any perceived threats to our ego.  The challenge is that the primitive brain still trumps the prefrontal cortex when we feel threatened.  

We need to learn to read our own signals, preempt events or conversations that may trigger our amygdala, and respond with our prefrontal cortex.

We can override the primitive brain’s reaction which occurs with .07 seconds, by adopting the simple habit of preparing by reflecting, reframing and planning our conversations in the workplace. 

The term ‘difficult conversation’ is enough to trigger the amygdala in both parties to the conversation.  We need to drop it from our vernacular.

Here are a couple of simple tips to help you prepare for a developmental conversation in the workplace.

Intent and Impact

Get clear on our intent and the impact will follow:

What conscious or unconscious biases do I hold about this person?

How might these influence my conversation?  How will I set these aside? 

What ‘performance change’ is at the core of this conversation?

What do I want to learn from the other person about the situation so I have a better understanding of their challenges, frustrations, ideas, unconscious biases  etc? 

What is the information I want to convey?  How can I frame my questions so they seeks to understand and look for strength based solutions?

What would I like the person to do differently as a result of the conversation?  

How do I want the other person to feel at the end of the conversation?  

How do I want to feel at the end of the conversation? 

How will I work with the other person at the end of the conversation to support them to identify the goal, timeline and accountabilities that will put them in the driver’s seat of their change?

Now we can reframe our conversation from ‘difficult’ to developmental.  

With good planning and delivery the conversation becomes a learning opportunity for both of us.  

Reflections to consider following a developmental conversation.

  1. What worked and what didn’t?
  2. How might I frame a question better next time?  
  3. Did I listen more than I spoke?  What can I do next time to prompt myself not to talk too much in these conversations?
  4. How well did I respond when I sensed anxiety in the other person?
  5. How well did I manage my own anxiety?
  6. Did I check for understanding, support the other person to name their own goal and accountabilities and reach agreement on timelines?

In planning your next developmental conversation, make sure it’s about your own development as much as it is about the person you are developing. 

“I am looking forward to going to work today. I am meeting with my manager for a check in on my progress to developmental goal” 

..... said team members post developmental conversations.

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