Why is a Challenging Conversation challenging?
Well, as we’re going to discuss today, challenging emotions make for challenging conversations.
That’s probably not surprising to you.
But what’s the cause of all of those challenging emotions?
Well, that answer IS a little surprising.
It’s closely related a kind leadership skill you can use this week to have the difficult conversations that will shift you and those you work with from drama to trust, so you and your school or library can get down to the real business of building a better world.
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This episode was produced byPodcast Boutique.
Why is a Challenging Conversation challenging? Well, as we’re going to discuss today, challenging emotions make for challenging conversations. That’s probably not surprising to you. But what’s the cause of all of those challenging emotions? Well, that answer IS a little surprising, and it’s closely related a kind leadership skill you can use this week to have the difficult conversations that will shift you and those you work with from drama to trust, so you and your school or library can get down to the real business of building a better world.
Welcome to the Kind Leadership Challenge, where I empower educational and library leaders like you to heal your organizations! I’m Sarah Clark, founder of the Kind Leadership Guild. My PhD in higher ed Leadership, my experience coaching, consulting, and presenting to library leaders all over the world, and a career working in academic libraries from the front desk to the Dean’s office taught me that leaders don't have to be perfect to build a better world. And now I want to share those same lessons with you.
Here's the deal. You give me the next 5-10 minutes of your day. In return, I'll share short stories and simple challenges you can implement this week to heal yourself and your school or library. Each challenge is designed to coach you in the confidence, skill, and trust that will help you to let go of a little control. By embarking on each week’s challenge on your own or with the community of over 1000 kind leaders in our private facebook group, you and your team will begin growing humanely, managing effectively, and partnering collaboratively, and your school or library will build a more informed and educated world along the way.
How do you successfully navigate challenging conversations so that you can heal your team culture and acquire the resources you need to thrive?
Mastering Challenging Conversations is a free set of checklists where I show your how to apply the three core principles of kind leadership to planning, conducting, and moving forward from a challenging leadership conversation. Just go to Kindleadershipchallenge.com/conversations, enter your email and start having the conversations that will make you and your organization burnout proof, heal your team's culture, connect your organization to the resources you need to thrive, and impact your community for the better.
Again, just head on over to kindleadershipchallenge.com/conversations to learn more and get your free guide.
As mentioned, today’s question is what makes a challenging conversation challenging? I think the best way to explore this is to consider a challenging conversation that I should have had as a kid—but didn’t. By identifying the emotions that kept me from solving a small problem until it became a big, stressful secret, you will see the common theme that ties together all kinds of situations that call for challenging conversations, and which also provides a clue for making the most stressful conversations effortless—or at least not stomach churning.
And believe me, although it seems tiny now, as an 11 year old this challenging situation was stomach churning. As kids back in the 80s, my brother and I spent many of our summers halfway across the country with our grandparents and our gaggle of cousins on that side of the family, all of whom lived near a lake in rural Virginia. Right before this summer’s trip, my mom took me to the mall to get my ears pierced—something I had been pestering her about for months. The girl at the store reminded me several times to use the ointment provided, and to make sure my earrings stayed in for 3 months while my piercings healed. I diligently kept them clean and rotated the posts every night to make sure my piercing didn’t close up. And all was well for the first three weeks or so, until we all climbed out of the lake behind my grandparents’ house after a spirited game of Marco Polo, only to discover that in our roughhousing, my left earring had fallen out. I freaked, searched the muddy water as best I could without tipping off my cousins (who would no doubt tease me for weeks), but soon accepted the obvious. The earring was gone. Now what?
Now, the sensible choice would have been to tell my grandma. She could have loaned me a pair of her earrings and that would have kept the holes open till I got home at the end of the summer. But I was scared. My grandma was and is one of the kindest people I know and absolutely would have helped me out, but I knew I’d still probably get a scolding for being careless. I was also embarrassed. I was always so diligent when getting in the lake to make sure the backings of my earrings were nice and tight, but I guessed I’d just forgotten that day. I also worried about what Mom would say. It had been a months’ long lobbying effort to convince her I was mature enough to get my ears pierced, and I knew if I told grandma, she would tell mom. I could only imagine the scolding I would get from her. And between all of those emotions, I blew the situation up into a huge shameful story, a crisis that had to be hidden at all costs. So I kept my mouth shut, did nothing, wore my hair in front of my ears so no one would notice the missing stud, and generally worried for the next month until my grandparents loaded us up in their camper and we drove back to Oklahoma.
Being 11, and a spectacularly bad schemer and liar, I didn’t think ahead to what would happen when I got home, beyond a vague plan to sneak into my mom’s jewelry box the next time my brother and I were home alone, grab an earring that didn’t look too different and hope for the best. Predictably, about 15 minutes after we pulled up, mom asked me how life had been with my new earrings. After hemming and hawing for a few minutes, I burst into tears and confessed my grievous sin. Mom, being Mom, saw I’d already punished myself pretty severely and took pity on me, though once I calmed down a bit she did gently chide me for not asking grandma or another adult for help when it happened. I knew why I decided not to tell anyone, but in the light of reality my worries, as usual, seemed pretty silly. That evening Mom dug through her jewelry box and found a couple of very similar cubic zirconium posts I could wear for the next few weeks till my piercings were fully healed. The left piercing had closed up a little but mom was able to get the new post in there with just a little twisting and forcing. That piercing has never been totally right since, and I’ve even recently considered getting it redone, but I pretty much stopped wearing earrings after college partly because that left hole was so challenging to use, so it was all kind of moot in the end.
Well, except that this tale demonstrated the biggest reason leaders don’t have the challenging conversations that stand between us and our needs.
Did you catch it?
Well, here it is again. “I blew the situation up into a huge shameful story, a crisis that had to be hidden at all costs.”
The facts of the situation were straight-forward, and not all that damning. I was playing in the lake and an earring fell out. The end. It certainly pales next to many of the shenanigans my cousins and I got up to during those free-range summers in the backwoods of Virginia. Heck, you probably couldn’t even get a compelling episode of the Brady Bunch out of something that tame! But my challenging emotions and my inexperience led me to spin this straightforward problem into a story of certain doom. And it was that story, not the facts, that kept me from telling my grandma, and will probably cost me a chunk of change if I do ever decide to get that ear professionally re-pierced one of these days.
The facts of a situation aren’t what makes a challenging conversation challenging. It’s the story we tell ourselves about those facts, which is inevitably skewed by our limited understanding, previous experiences (or a lack of previous experiences), and all our beautiful, powerful, and irrational human emotions.
So here’s your challenge for this week. Do you have your own equivalent to a Lost Earring? Something you rationally know could be addressed with a simple but uncomfortable conversation, but you find yourself unable to have that conversation. If you do--and you probably do--grab some paper or open a blank document. First, write down the story you’re telling yourself about this situation, in all its florid, emotional detail. Get it all out of your head and onto the page. Then, write down the facts. Just the facts. What a video camera would have recorded of the situation.
Now, compare the facts and the story. How much of the latter is REALLY supported by the former? Does your story need a rewrite to better fir the facts? And maybe, just maybe, does that challenging conversation seem a little less impossible than it did a few minutes ago? Also, just like I would have felt better if I’d opened up to my grandma, opening up about your kind leadership challenges will help you shift from feeling stuck to smoothly achieving the results that will help you and your school or library build a better world. So shoot me an email, or post in the kind leadership challenge facebook group! We’d love to hear the facts, your story and support you as you move forward with your next challenging conversation.
Thanks for listening and for taking action to become a kinder leader. If you found this week’s episode insightful, give it a like or review—or even better, share this challenge with a colleague! Never doubt that day by day, you’re building a better world, even if you can't see it yet. So until next time, stay kind now.
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In the next 45 minutes you'll learn the first steps to healing your organization--and yourself--so you can start building the better world that you desire and your community deserves.