Leading with Soul

What is REALLY means to have an honest conversation

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This week, I had a very honest conversation with a peer.

This person had messaged me something about revenue that had left me feeling uncomfortable and questioning the relationship. And it’s a relationship that I value with a person I respect, so I didn’t want to just ignore it, because I don’t believe that’s how relationships deepen. Relationships, the bedrock of business, deepen through honest conversations.

But what IS a truly honest conversation? Here, I want to offer a framework for conversations that are empowering, brave, and create a deeper connection between two people – colleagues, friends, partners, whatever.

But firstly, what am I NOT talking about?

  • I’m not talking about feedback. Feedback is important, but it isn’t a conversation. It’s one person sharing how their own needs, wants and expectations have been met or not met by another person.
  • I’m not talking about giving someone some ‘home truths’. That’s not honest and brave. That’s just ego, and an abdication of any responsibility in the relationship.
  • I’m not talking about reinforcing hierarchy – a boss telling a subordinate what they’ve done right/wrong, or a subordinate asking a boss for approval. In a truly honest conversation, both parties are equal, because they are both first and foremost fellow human beings.

So here it is, a framework for soul-led, honest conversations. 

1/ An honest conversation starts with YOU.

You need to start by having an honest conversation with YOURSELF, one where you interrogate what’s bothering you about a situation. Ask yourself three questions:

  • How do I really feel about the situation?
  • What is the situation revealing to me about myself?
  • What am I assuming about the other person? 

So, in my example, the message I received made me uncomfortable and jealous. It revealed to me that I don’t fully believe I can reach that revenue level, and that I still feel competitive with other coaches. I was assuming that the other person was boasting.

2/ Name the elephant in the room.

There are three entities in any relationship – you, the other person, and the relationship itself. If there is something out of alignment with the relationship, you’ll both feel it on some level (you probably know what I mean). The quickest (and bravest) path to resolution is to name your experience of the ‘thing in the middle’, so you can then both examine it. 

In my example, I shared that I’d felt jealous and confused about what the other person had intended by the message. IMPORTANT – do not blame the other person for your feelings. “I felt jealous” NOT “you made me feel jealous”. Own your experience – no one can ‘make us’ feel anything.

3/ Be curious.

I don’t care how well you know someone, you do NOT know what they are thinking or feeling until you ask them, and give them space to express their truth. See if you can welcome the other person’s perspective on the situation with curiosity. You might ask:

  • What was your experience of the situation? 
  • What were you thinking / intending?

In my example, the other person wanted to celebrate their success with someone who was not their immediate family. Pure and simple.

Being able to have the type of conversation where you take responsibility for your own reactions, name the ‘sticky’ feeling, and share your different experiences of it, takes work. It takes courage and trust in yourself. And it requires you to put your own ego to one side for the good of the relationship.

And, as a leaders, that’s exactly the type of conversations we should be having.

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