“Difficult Conversations”

Posted by jlubans on August 23, 2018

TRAINING magazine has published an excerpt from Fables for Leaders.
You can link to it here.
With this little bit of welcome publicity, it’s a good time to visit the notion of managerial training and learning. One hopes that most of us are open to more than one or two ways of training. But, by and large in the field of management – regardless of where we work – any training other than the utiliarian, direct, and practical, runs into credibility problems.
Using fables to help people learn about complicated issues is an indirect approach. Indeed someone might say that it is no approach. How can a talking tree or wolf or lion or rabbit offer any insights to those of us inside the corporate realm trying to keep an organization on track?
My thesis is that literature is a valid way to learn more about leadership and management and other forms of human experience.
I’ve been holding onto an article from 2016. It’s from the esteemed Harvard Business Review. The topic is the giving of feedback*. The author, Ms. Lou Solomon, reveals that a large number (she claims two-thirds) of managers “Are Uncomfortable Communicating with Employees”.
Of course, being uncomfortable is different from totally avoiding.
Nevertheless, it does appear to be that constructive feedback is more often avoided than not. This is the stuff of “difficult conversations”.
Who best to use as an example of an avoider but one’s self?
I have avoided and accommodated far too much. Why? Probably because of a fear about confrontation and a shortage of “scripts” in my head to use for giving feedback, resulting in inarticulation.
At one of my jobs I had a personal goal every year to have a heart to heart talk with a peer with whom I regularly butted heads.
When I left I still hadn’t had that difficult conversation. Not good!
Anyway, Ms. Solomon’s HRR article winds up, as does much of management writing, with a prescriptive list of do’s and don’ts.
When giving feedback*:
Be direct but kind.
Don’t beat around the bush.
Don’t make it personal.
Be present.
Inspire greatness.

I’ve been guilty – in my own writing - of such lists.
Are they not, in their own way, like those morals tacked on to the end of Aesop’s fables? Did you know that the original fables had no morals?
Unlike the well meaning moralists, Aesop saw no reason to make the obvious obvious.
I do believe that too much of our training is too practical.
I term my Fables book, an Un-textbook; it’s an impractical management book. Is this foolhardy marketing? I’ll let you answer that.
I recall leading a group of managers along a forest trail. We were in a leadership-training program and my segment was an outdoor experience - a break from lectures, from readings, from seminar discussions of thorny financial problems.
In the lead, I stopped the group and asked what were they hearing. I could hear all kinds of forest sounds. My question was to prompt a taking of one’s eye off the ball and gazing upward into the trees and the open skies.
Puzzled, not a one commented on the sounds around us – the kestrel’s call, the chatter of the squirrels, the sighing of the branches, the insects buzzing.
One joker did comment that he could hear the clicking of golf balls in the distance.
Agenda driven to the exclusion of all else, he was focused on tee time at the golf club.
I hope that the readers of TRAINING magazine will be inspired to think some more about how we learn and how our literature speaks to who we are and who we want to be.
Maybe fables can be used as ice-breakers to get those difficult conversations underway?

*Like a line out of
Capek’s RUR here’s the daffynition of biz world feedback: “The transmission of evaluative or corrective information about an action, event, or process to the original or controlling source; also : the information so transmitted.”
In other words, it’s the screeching noise one hears in tuning a sound system.

To purchase a copy of Fables for Leaders, click on this button:

Or, you can buy a copy at AMAZON.

© Copyright John Lubans 2018

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