Sarah's Story

This is the most honest I’ve ever been about my ‘why’ and a situation that happened to me a few years ago…

There was someone in my team who had become the toxic person that people complained about and didn’t want to work with. I had tried talking to them about their behaviour, with no success, for months.

I spent more time with them than anyone else in my team, often playing referee between them and others. It had become so bad that I considered leaving my job as it just wasn’t fun anymore. I experienced their tears and frustration all the time as no-one was willing to give them feedback, so I often ended up delivering the messages (and getting shot for it).

I was totally fed up with the situation and had tried every technique I could find, with no success.

I had asked them how they thought a meeting had gone, what they would do differently next time, but these questions never took me to the conversation I desperately needed to have.

This played on my mind and I spent a lot of time thinking about it (inside and outside of work).

The night before any meeting with them, it would be lurking in the back of my mind. I had spent so long dancing around the truth that I had reached the end of my tether.

One day, after another rubbish conversation, I was feeling totally frustrated and said:

"I feel like I don’t know you anymore and I don’t know how to talk to you. We used to get on well and now I’m starting to dread every conversation we have. What’s going on?"

They were really surprised and said that they hadn’t realised that I felt that way.

They just couldn’t see themselves as the difficult person I was describing. We talked about what was going on for both of us and promised to keep having these honest conversations, instead of second-guessing what the other one was thinking.

That one moment and the question I asked were more powerful than all the conversations we’d had before.

It was like I’d waved a magic wand and was finally having the real conversation that I wanted to have. All the techniques I’d tried had failed but a few words said in the heat of the moment, got me the breakthrough I desperately needed.

It made me realise that people are rarely honest with others about the impact their behaviour is having on them.

As feedback often gets diluted. We have become so obsessed with not upsetting people that we rarely do them the courtesy of telling them what everyone else is saying about them. If we thought that someone was keeping this sort of feedback from us, we’d be furious. We’d be thinking: “How the hell can I sort this if I don’t know about it.".

It also made me realise that people don’t get out of bed in the morning and think about how to ruin someone’s day. Sometimes, sh*t just happens.

Since I stumbled on this technique, I’ve spent years helping leaders and their teams to have these Real Conversations and it’s become my passion.

In the spirit of keeping it real, I'll be honest and say that I still struggle with having these conversations - I still get butterflies! In the spirit of keeping it real, I’ll be honest and say that I still struggle with having these conversations and I get butterflies.

If I notice I’m overanalysing my interactions with someone, I know that I need to be brave because I know that the feeling of immediate relief I get is massive, and I learn something new about my behaviour or the other person.

So why do I keep choosing to have these awkward conversations?

Because I know that the feeling of relief I get is massive and I learn something new about my behaviour or how the other person operates.

So what are you waiting for, what is stopping you from having the Real Conversation that you’re sitting on?

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