How HardTalk Actually Works: A Guest Blog
Kathy walked away from the meeting with her manager, Dan, feeling disrespected, bewildered, and angry.
Dan’s reputation was a very task-oriented micro-manager, a blunt communicator, light with giving praise, and an independent decision-maker who rarely asked the team for input.
Kathy was also a people leader – a Director. Unlike Dan, she was collaborative; giving praise and recognition came easily. Kathy was happy to share credit with team members and sought to create a supportive environment where they could succeed.
Despite previous experience with Dan’s different approach to relationships, her recent meeting with him was the straw that broke the camel’s back. In this meeting, Kathy shared a decision she faced, shared her thoughts and concerns, and asked his opinion.
His response was, “Kathy, you’re supposed to be a leader. I can’t make your decisions for you.”
Kathy was stunned and insulted, but didn’t openly address her concerns with Dan. Instead, she left the meeting in silence. Unfortunately, silent departure is the number one response to conflict.
You may wonder why Kathy should be the one to address the problem in the relationship with her manager. I’ll give you two reasons:
First, Dan isn’t the one with a concern. Dan may not even know he’s done anything to upset Kathy.
Second, if I asked Kathy if she considers herself a leader or a follower, it would be the former, and leaders go first.
I spoke to Kathy over the phone about her manager’s comments shortly after it happened, and she was extremely upset at his assertion she wasn’t being a leader, or couldn’t make her own decisions.
After listening to Kathy, I reminded her about the different filters all people view the world through. We don’t see the world as it is, we see things as we are. Our mental filters are shaped by many factors, such as education, culture, gender, personality, age, socio-economic factors, and life experiences.
Our filters influence what we see and hear, leading to potential stories that explain what we’ve seen and heard. Our interpretations are so obvious to us it’s almost unimaginable any other potential explanation could exist.
I encouraged Kathy to have a conversation with Dan to explain the impact his comments had and give him a chance to clarify his intent. Otherwise, nothing would change, and she would continue to feel resentment toward him. Problems that are ignored become bigger problems.
I started by helping Kathy understand the differences between her and Dan, so she would realize he was operating from his natural motivations, and not with intent to hurt or offend her. This helped Kathy reframe her assumptions and approach the conversation from a positive position.
Next, I coached Kathy how to have a conversation in a way that would limit Dan’s defensiveness.
I also helped her with how to share the impact Dan’s words had while also giving him the benefit of the doubt.
It went something like this:
“Dan, is this a good time to talk? I’d like to discuss something that occurred in our last meeting, and I’m interested in your thoughts, as well.”
I asked Kathy to confidently, yet humbly, share her objective observations, what the HardTalk™ model calls Truths, without drawing conclusions about Dan’s intent. When Dan told Kathy he can’t make her decisions for her, it would be inappropriate for Kathy to state in her feedback that he was “disrespectful” because that is not objective. It’s a subjective assumption or conclusion she has drawn from assuming Dan’s intent based on her filters.
That’s not to say Dan’s impact to Kathy didn’t matter, but assuming intent is inflammatory and might cause Dan to dismiss her message.
Rather, Kathy shared the following,
“In our last meeting when I was discussing some decisions with you, I did so because I often use a collaborative approach to decision-making. The response that ‘I need to be a leader’ disappointed me because I believe I am a good leader, I just have a different approach. I realize I might have misinterpreted your comment and assumed my leadership style isn’t being valued, which probably wasn’t your intent. I’d like to hear your thoughts on how we can work together effectively despite our different approaches.”
Dale responded that he really appreciated Kathy being open and sharing and said her feedback was received. He also told her he considered her feedback a gift!
Kathy was surprised her comments were received so positively by Dan, but using the HardTalk™ approach produces different-than-expected results to conflict when the principles are applied.
Kathy had assumed Dan intended to be rude and insulting, however, Kathy came to realize Dan’s comment was shaped by his own perspectives and filters as an independent decision-maker who wants to be in control.
Kathy told me she’s had subsequent conversations with Dan and this new approach has radically improved their communication!