This is the story of Ben, a C-suite executive, who recently learned about a project that didn’t work out the way he anticipated.
One of his most trusted team members, Brian, confessed that he made a mistake, and took the blame. Later, when Ben told me about the situation during a coaching conversation, he was proud of the fact that he didn’t fly off the handle, or start criticising Brian. Instead, he asked questions. However, Ben’s questions were actually missteps, as each one started with “Why?”
“Why did it go wrong?”
“Why did that happen?”
“Why did you do that?”
Ben jumped into the problem, and didn’t pay attention to how Brian felt about the situation. Nor did he acknowledge Brian’s willingness to have ‘fessed up to his mistakes.
Ben and Brian enjoy a good working relationship. Brian appreciates Ben’s trust; he’s comfortable coming to him and admitting his failure. Ben’s immediate focus on the problem risked undermining their strong connection. Brian might even doubt whether it’s worth being so honest in the future. Connecting on a personal level as the first step in conversation is key.
As I coached Ben, we walked through ways the conversation might have gone differently, and what might have happened if he’d paused to connect with Brian before jumping in.
“How might I have done that?” Ben asked me.
“What if you had simply started with a THANK YOU to Brian?”
Ben tapped himself on the forehead in a classic “doh!”. He couldn’t believe he missed such an obvious opportunity.
“Yes!” he reflected. “That would have led to a much better conversation.”
Ben ran through a few possibilities:
“I could have slowed down and paid more attention to how Brian was feeling. He would have appreciated me acknowledging him in that way. I think it would have led to Brian being even more open and telling me more about what actually happened. Instead I made him defensive. By starting differently, our conversation would have been more creative, collaborative and productive as a whole.
“How could I have missed that? That one phrase would have made a huge difference. I’ll remember next time! Thank you.”
What if you start each conversation today with an authentic ‘Thank You’ or an acknowledgement of the other person? How does your conversation shift and progress after consciously creating this initial connection?
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