It has been a little while since my last tip and a couple of things have prompted me to get back in the swing of it. Firstly I have received several really nice bits of feedback saying how useful the old tips have been and that they have helped with some challenging conversations. Secondly I have run a ‘difficult conversations’ workshop this week and a new ‘top tip’ emerged from one of the ‘Real Play’ scenarios.
This scenario was different in that the difficult conversation was going to be with a person the manager had not met and did not know. In this case it was going to be a conversation with a key customer about outstanding invoices but it equally could have been any number of other situations where you need to influence or negotiate with a new customer/supplier/employer.
The manager in this instance was new in role and was picking up a problem that others had failed to resolve. He had been given snippets of information about the customer (a senior manager in a council department) and most of that feedback had been about how difficult this person was to deal with. Apparently he was unsmiling, short of time, unfriendly, only interested in own agenda and generally tough.
Now those things may well have been true and were shared honestly to try to help this manager. The problem in this case was that these impressions were used to shape the approach that this manager took. In the ‘Real Play’ (where an actor is the council manager) our manager had the conversation expecting bluntness and a battle and lo and behold that is exactly what he got back.
When we unpicked what had happened it started to emerge that our manager had almost tried to mirror his expectations. He had been unsmiling and serious. He had adopted a fixed posture and steely gaze which remained unaltered. He had used very direct language and failed to listen stating only his needs.
The beauty of ‘Real Play’ is that you can rewind and try different approaches. The second time our manager was more ‘himself’. He smiled a little more, was more relaxed and listened better. He put aside his script and responded to the other person and lo and behold a dialogue started with scope for better understanding and finding areas of mutual benefit.
The real meeting is due to take place next week and of course there is no guarantee it will go anything like our second iteration. However, I can guarantee it will certainly go like the first attempt if our manager assumes too much of how the other person is going to be.
Fundamentally whether the other person is an actor or a real person they will respond to your behaviours. In other words we reap what we sow.