One of the most important roles of a leader is having difficult conversations. I became a high school principal when I was 27 years old and felt unprepared for difficult conversations. Some of the teachers at the school had taught longer than I had been alive, and all of the parents were older than me. In the early days of that position, I felt unsure of myself due to my age and lack of experience. I often felt like people questioned my decisions due to my age.
Crucial Conversations is a great resource for having difficult conversations, and the content can apply to professional and personal interactions. The book identities a “Path to Action”:
- See & hear
- Tell a story
This process helps us maintain control during difficult conversations. First of all, it reminds us to actively listen and observe the conversation. “Tell a story” encourages us to better understand what we are telling ourselves about the situation and conversation. As a high school principal, I would need to remind myself that upset parents were not mad at me or questioning my competence. They were often just trying to show concern and care for their child. That distinction changed the way I would “feel” about the situation, and my feelings impacted how I would “act”.
When you are involved in difficult situations and conversations, what story are you telling yourself? Are you empathizing with the other person? Are you taking criticism personally or recognizing that an employee really cares? Changing the story in our head helps leaders respond more constructively to difficult situations.
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