Watch Season 2 Episode 2 of Conscious Business Leaders TV featuring guest John Haynes III as he speaks on “Courageous Conversations.”
Excerpt from Courageous Conversations
Indigo: We’ve had such wonderful conversations before. Which is why I have thought of inviting you to the show, because I always enjoy conversations with you. But this time, we get a chance to talk about something that is very dear to your heart. That is what you call “Courageous Conversations.” Tell me what you mean by that term.
John: I knew you were gonna ask that question. I wrote down what I think my formal definition of it. It is transparent, direct, authentic conversation based on principle, to meet an effective and forward moving outcome. Said simply, it is conversation that you are afraid to have, but for the principle of the matter to get to resolution, whether it’s good or present conversation… necessary conversation, that’s the conversation you need to have in order to move the relationship forward or yourself forward. It’s conversation that you’re usually afraid of, but you’ve got to have.
Indigo: Let me give you a scenario, you tell me, is this a situation where courageous conversation would be warranted or is it making trouble? So here’s the scenario: You’re at work, there’s this person and every time you say something to them, they have a habit of answering you as if you had said something different. And you start noticing a pattern to the way they misinterpret what you say. The pattern might suggest that they think you’re incompetent. The pattern might be that it suggests that they think you’re unreliable, that you don’t have good logic, and reason or common sense, that they have to explain things to you. Whatever reason it is, you see that pattern. But they never directly said to you that they think you’re incompetent, unreliable or anything like that. Do you raise the issue or are you just making trouble, because they haven’t said anything?
John: It could be both. I say this because, one time a fellow colleague called me an instigator. I said to him, “May be true, but my whole objective is to make you and me better in this work place, and any issues that need to come out between us, or between our teams, or in this organization, I’m going to bring it up.”
If it’s hard conversation, then it’s just hard, but we’ve got to confront it, because it’s the elephant in the room, that if you feed it lies if you feed it non-conversation, it’s gonna suffocate all of you. That should not be acceptable.
To answer your question, yes, it is a hard conversation, it is stirring the pot, but it is necessary, because the problem with the scenario that you enumerated is the perception. Even if it’s totally false, that person has a perception, and perhaps they have propagated that perception in other areas of the company, to other leaders, to other internal and external customers, and that should not be acceptable to my brand, to me personally or professionally. So yes, that is an opportunity for courageous conversation. No doubt.
Indigo: Okay, so let’s say that you start engaging in a conversation… we’ll continue this story just to be consistent, but just know that I’m speaking a little bit more broadly. Let’s say you’ve initiated a conversation that’s hard to have, but you feel needs to happen in order for things to move forward. It takes a lot of courage to open up that conversation, but it needs to happen. So you do, and the person says, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. That isn’t my experience at all.” At what point do you cross out of being a courageous conversation into being creating an argument?
John: Good question. The important thing that we need to remember going into courageous conversations is, you won’t all the time reach your ultimate outcome with that person and create change in that issue. Ultimately, the courageous conversation is for me. The courageous conversation is for you, and it is for you to confront the issue that you’ve been receiving. What you communicate to that person is what called critical incidents. Examples of the behaviors that they’re talking about and the wrong behaviors that you either you have been getting from that person’s… wrong signals… or that you’ve been getting second-hand. What you want to do is get directly to the root of the issue and to the truth.
To the extent that you can in that conversation, that’s what you’re objective is. Either way, when you have conversation, you have data. You can do something with that data. Either you might let that situation slide. Or the person totally denies. You redirect and come back at them from another direction, and they deny or block, you might just let that situation go. But if you get signals where the person might be lying or not telling the truth, then you might press those points and say, “Look, I get the sense that you’re not telling the truth, you can be direct about that and this is why I think that. What’s important to me in this conversation is that we resolve the issue. We get close to the truth as we possible can. I am here to confront that issue, and this is what it’s important to me to come to you directly.”
Indigo: You’re saying that the most important thing is that for yourself, you simply make it plain. You create the opportunity that you could resolve it. And you realize that the other person has a part to play in that, and no matter what you do you may not be able to resolve it, but at least you have followed through on your obligation to yourself. That’s what I’m hearing you saying. That the obligation isn’t to get them to a certain place… to get them to stop a behavior, for example.
John: That is not the ultimate obligation. That is one of the objectives going in. You would love for the person to admit that they were wrong, that they said these things and you can determine how to manage the relationship once that comes out. But ultimately, it is for you to get close to the truth, or get the truth then make the decision about the relationship and the dynamic, once you get the data from that conversation.
Indigo: Now I intentionally started off with an example that I felt would be very personal, because I think that we can all see ourselves in that and feel something. But we are talking about business, so I want to move a little beyond just the personal aspect of it. Same conversation, but now it’s a business meeting. Your team has all been brought together in a meeting and the executives are laying out where you’re going, and you hear them setting out a number of objectives, priorities and directives that you find to be ethically not thought through. Let’s be generous. From an ethical standpoint, they have clearly not thought it through. Is that an opening or requirement even, that there be a courageous conversation, and at that meeting you speak up and voice your concerns.
John: You are asking the right person here, because it is an obligation and an imperative for me in my role as an HR executive, but that’s also how I live. So, the personal and the professional are no different. If I hear something wrong, that’s taking me off in another direction and especially if it’s putting the company in jeopardy. It’s putting me in jeopardy personally and professionally. It’s putting employees in jeopardy and it’s putting business in jeopardy…. There’s no way that I should sit and listen through something unethical and something that lacks integrity and something that is going to literally suffocate and kill our brand. It’s not in my nature. I’ve had those situations and I have spoken up and I have to be comfortable with being the only one sometimes to have courageous conversation.
Indigo: I have a couple of follow up questions actually on this scenarios. In that situation first, do you feel like you have a responsibility to say something, but once it’s said, to let it go and let things go on, or do you feel that they need to come back . that you need to work it through, similar to the other scenario?
John: It’s unfortunate, but it’s life that some of those situations are gray. So you have to decide going in… one, taking a role like I have as VP of HR or in any situation … what your mission is and how far you are willing to take it, or what you are willing to risk. There are some situations that I bring to the executive team, and to the company, that may not be worth dying on the hill and we may have to suffer the repercussions for it, and there are other things that I have to take a principled stance on, whether that means confronting the board or the CEO, the people, the person that is in charge of my paycheck and my livelihood and my family’s livelihood. Those are hard decisions that we have to make, but I’m prepared to make them all ready. I’m going in with the expectation of courageous conversation and that I’m gonna lay it on the line and I’m willing to pursue various channels to have my voice heard and to have us take the appropriate action.
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