Written by: Joel Levin
In the last article we asked the question…Have you ever walked into a meeting and felt like it was groundhog day, a discussion that has been had and was not going anywhere in particular? We explored the possible reasons for this on a historical level and gave a simple strategy to help meetings build and maintain purpose and focus. Read more from that blog.
But what if the problem is not focus? What if the topic you are dealing with is spot on but the problem is people not wanting to deal with that issue?
While people are afraid of real conversations, it is the unreal conversation that should scare us to death' - Susan Scott
In organisations we do the functional and transactional fairly well. The 'transaction' is essentially about what you want or what I want to see happen. People's views align or not and there is usually a power hierarchy to sort things out when they don’t align. This functional approach is not always easy but in essence it is a transaction.
In fact we do the functional so well, or at least so often, that can at times we forget that we are dealing with people and not just a collection of job titles. People are well, people, they are sensing, feeling humans who don’t JUST think, they feel and what people feel can be a critical part of the conversation. In reality we don’t have a conversation without feeling something and that feeling is telling us something either about the conversation, the people in the room or ourselves. This can at times be the key to unlocking a problem, dynamic or new direction. So when we stick to the functional and ignore the feeling it can be like communicating with marbles in your mouth…you only understand part of the story.
So why don't we communicate feeling?
Could it simply be because we don’t practice doing this enough? Could it be that without this practise we don’t learn the boundaries of when, where and how much?
The most common risk with communicating feeling is a perceived lack of control. 'What if it all goes pear shaped?'
But if what we feel is part of the dynamic of what we are saying, in essence, it is that we are not confident with being honest! There is good reason for this lack of confidence. When we don’t express what we feel, these feelings build up in layers. These layers become emotions, which are our reactions to what we feel. When we express with emotion it comes out much more loaded and it can be harder to 'unpack' as we are more steps (layers) away from what is really going on. Is it possible that by trying to avoid things going pear shaped, we could actually be making things go pear shaped!?
So where to start…Start with a willingness to be wrong and a commitment to learning (your own learning). After all this is the holy-grail for most organisations…a place where people learn and grow. Reframe what getting it wrong means. What if by getting it wrong you identify a belief that is not serving you or the team?…or said another way… everybody wins.
Then it comes down to how you share. If you have an agenda (eg: don't want to be wrong, are trying to reclaim some power, are reacting to a hurt, wanting someone to 'get it') what you say will make the recipient defensive and less open to what is being said. So try this simple experiment, next time you talk to one other person AT WORK, notice what you are feeling…either coming from them or coming from you. Then share that in a non-judgmental way… “I just want to check something out’…. “What I’m also getting a sense of is…”, “I know we are talking about X but I’m wondering if Y might also be a factor”… Take an approach that is curious rather than accusatory.
If you want people to go deeper, YOU need to lead…not by wearing your heart on your sleeve but by modelling a willingness to explore the feeling beyond transaction… a willingness to be human, with those other humans you happen to be sharing most of your week with.