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WUSM Pediatrics Leadership Development Series Difficult Conversations. January 29, 2014. Samuel P. Jenkins, MBA OD Consultant - Applied Leadership. Introductions/Review.

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Wusm pediatrics leadership development series difficult conversations

WUSM Pediatrics Leadership Development Series

Difficult Conversations

January 29, 2014

Samuel P. Jenkins, MBA

OD Consultant - Applied Leadership

Introductions review


  • Anyone in the class who was not here last week? If so, please introduce yourself, tell us your job, and what you’d like to get from the training

  • Everyone who was in the class last week – tell us “one” thing that you learned/took away from the first session

Communication attributes

Communication Attributes

  • Effective(per your exercise)

    • Clarity

    • Trustworthy/forthright

    • Collaborative

    • Stays on task

    • Transparent/direct

    • A good listener and speaker; eye contact

    • Accessible

    • Meets people where they are

    • Not derogatory

Communication attributes1

Communication Attributes

  • Ineffective(per your exercise)

    • Petty/nick picker

    • Bully/tyrant

    • Condescending

    • Rambles/mumbles

    • Does not acknowledge needs of others/own agenda

    • Dominates the conversation

    • Intimidates in voice and gestures

    • Takes things personally

Wusm pediatrics leadership development series difficult conversations

Factors That Can Aid or Hinder Communication

2011 Annette Veech, PhD

Recognition, Reward, or Blame?

  • Logistics

  • Hand Offs

  • Paper Trails


  • Emotions

  • Expertise

  • Culture

  • Risk Level

  • Support

  • Outcomes

Effective communication streamlined competency model

Effective CommunicationStreamlined Competency Model*

  • Lead by demonstrating expectations

    • Plan ahead to manage risk

    • Assess stakeholders’ perspectives (logical vs. emotional)

    • Explain logic behind critical thinking, so all envision “one” outcome

  • Communicate strategically

    • Focus on observable behaviors; avoid references to “attitude”

    • Listen actively without building defense; rephrase others’ perspectives

    • Use active voice for action; passive voice for bad news

*2011 Annette Veech, PhD

Effective communication streamlined competency model1

Effective CommunicationStreamlined Competency Model*

  • Manage the difficult moments

    • Clarify purpose and intended outcomes

    • Acknowledge feelings; ask variations of “five whys”

    • Reiterate, precisely and concisely, benefits of next steps and outcomes

*2011 Annette Veech, PhD

Two underlying d imensions of conflict handling b ehaviors

Two Underlying Dimensions of Conflict-Handling Behaviors








Wusm pediatrics leadership development series difficult conversations

Ideas for Communicating Precisely and Concisely

Sources: Universal Principles of Design, by W. Lidwell, K. Holden, & J. Butler. The first six points in column two are drawn from Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point

Difficult conversations

Difficult Conversations

  • Think of a conversation you had recently that was particularly difficult

  • Write down three/four attributes that were present; ones that helped define the conversation as difficult

  • Discuss your answers in your small group, create a composite and report to the larger group

Difficult conversations1

Difficult Conversations

  • Your answers - attributes of a difficult conversation

    • Strong personality/forces agreement

    • Not able to recognize something is wrong

    • Not enough time to process

    • High level of emotion/take it personal

    • Unexpected events

    • Don’t know the answer/lack of preparation

    • Conflict not managed

    • Power differential

Six basic types of difficult conversations

Six Basic Types of Difficult Conversations*

  • I have bad news for you

    • Have to deliver unwelcome information

  • You are challenging my power

    • Boss thinks you put him/her on the spot

  • I can’t go there

    • Conflict averse; watch conversation/relationship go south

      *2010 Holly Weeks, Failure to Communicate

Six basic types of difficult conversations1

Six Basic Types of Difficult Conversations

  • You win/I lose

    • Despite efforts to be cooperative; the other party needs to come out on top

  • What’s going on here?

    • Intensely charged and extremely confusing

  • I’m being attacked!

    • On the offensive with accusations, profanity, shouts, and perhaps worse

Three basic types of hard talk

Three Basic Types of Hard Talk*

  • Combat mentality

    • The attitude that difficult conversations are battles with winners/losers

  • Heavy emotional loads

    • Particularly anger, embarrassment, anxiety and fear

  • Hard to read what is happening

    • Hard to read the others’ intentions

      *2010 Holly Weeks, Failure to Communicate

Difficult conversations movie clip

Difficult Conversations - Movie Clip

  • Let’s revisit the movie Ordinary People

  • In this scene Beth and Cal travel to see her brother in Houston for a golf vacation

  • Beth and Cal are having a great time, enjoying each other and the company of family

  • Remember last week, you recognized that:

    • Issues have not been resolved

    • There is emotional dishonesty

    • Blame and shame

  • Afterwards, we’ll relate the scene to “Hard Talk”

Difficult conversations2

Difficult Conversations*

  • Bearable vs. Toxic

  • Three “misguided” slants on handling tough conversations

    • Oversimplifying tough conversations

      • Pointing to “one thing” as the problem; subject/counterpart

    • Win or lose mentality

      • Win at my expense, payback; reluctance to back down or repair

    • Delusion of good intentions

      • I meant well, so this hard conversation shouldn’t happen

        *2010 Holly Weeks, Failure to Communicate

Difficult conversations3

Difficult Conversations*

  • What’s wrong with what we (they) do?

    • Each side thinks the trouble is the other side’s fault

    • Our counterparts use “thwarting ploys” to get us to back off

    • We want to avoid confrontation

    • Our own emotions are in the way

    • Swing from pole to pole

    • Stick to one old standby

    • Resist skill

*2010 Holly Weeks, Failure to Communicate

Difficult conversations4

Difficult Conversations*

  • The way through them:

    • Self respect

    • Respect for your counterpart

    • Respect for the conversation itself

    • Balance within

    • Balance within the two sides

    • Move through the conversational landscapes

    • Open new possibilities

*2010 Holly Weeks, Failure to Communicate

Difficult conversations5

Difficult Conversations

Let’s do some work from your Primers

Difficult conversations6

Difficult Conversations

  • Today I learned . . .

Back up charts

Back Up Charts


What makes a conversation pay off

What Makes a Conversation “Pay Off”

  • What you want

  • What he/she wants

  • The Goal: Make the future “better”


A good conversation albeit difficult

A “Good” Conversation, Albeit Difficult

  • What is a good conversation?

  • How you feel

  • How he/she feels

  • The Goal: Better understanding


What s at risk in difficult conversations

What’s At Risk in Difficult Conversations

  • Your view of who you are – and his/her view

  • Your self-esteem – and his/her self-esteem

  • Rejection

  • Relationships

  • Business outcomes


If you are on the hook

If You Are “On the Hook”

  • Did you help create this problem?

  • Did you forget to do something? Or did you do something?

  • What do you do with that “guilt”?

    • Admit your part in the issue

    • Tell him/her your perception about what part he/she “owns”

    • Try to get mutual understanding on the problem

    • Go forward to solve it


Elements of conversations that work

Elements of Conversations That Work

Techniques You Can Use

  • Open-ended

  • Summarizing

  • Pausing

  • Reflecting


Elements of conversations that work1

Elements of Conversations That Work

  • Concern for the other’s perspective

    • Be curious – ask open-ended questions

    • How does “it” look to him/her?

  • Be an “impartial observer”

    • Hold your perspective aside

    • Be objective

    • Non-judgmental

  • Can both of you be right?


Elements of conversations that work2

Elements of Conversations That Work

  • Check your own feelings

    • Am I afraid? Angry? Worried about how “this looks”?

  • Check out assumptions – yours and his/hers

    • “I am right – you are wrong”

    • “I will lose if this doesn’t go my way”

    • “I (or you) want certain things. . . ”

    • Ask open-ended questions


Elements of conversations that work3

Elements of Conversations That Work

  • State your perspective without judgment

    • Go beyond “fact finding”

    • Confirm perceptions, interpretations, values

    • Avoid blame

    • State “the obvious”


Elements of conversations that work4

Elements of Conversations That Work

  • Work towards commitment and understanding

  • Avoid coercion

    • You do not have to convince them

    • You cannot control their reactions


Elements of conversations that work5

Elements of Conversations That Work

  • Once the problem is clear:

    • Work together to solve problems

    • Be a mediator

    • Encourage a conversation so others will follow


What makes a conversation not work

What Makes a Conversation NOT Work?

  • Your own issues

  • Assuming “bad” things

    • Bad intentions – bad person

  • Continuing when you should stop

  • Not hearing the “un-said”

  • Trying to control the conversation and/or person

  • Placing blame


Blaming vs assessing

Blaming vs. Assessing








How can you make things worse

How Can You Make Things Worse?

  • Avoiding a conversation that is needed

  • Telling others

  • Being unapproachable

  • Waiting for the other to change

  • Holding assumptions

  • Assigning motives


Does timing matter

Does Timing Matter?

  • What are the “right” circumstances?

  • The “Hit and Run” approach

  • Later vs. Now

  • Your feelings (and theirs)

  • Relevance


Normal flow of a conversation

“Normal” Flow of a Conversation

  • Pick the right moment

  • Say “I’d like to talk”

  • State the issue – from the “third-party” view point

  • Ask questions to clarify

  • State your understanding, feelings, assumptions

  • Admit your contribution

  • Ask about his/her contribution

  • Ask what he/she could do to change things

  • Give and accept constructive feedback

  • Focus on how to move forward



Remember . . .

  • There are no casual conversations when you are a manager

  • Your words, tone, expression carry added weight

  • Being “aware” is half the battle

  • Awareness rests on:

    • Assumptions

    • Interactions

    • Interpretations

    • Reactions


Final tips

Final Tips

  • Understanding is not agreeing

  • Recover your balance in conversations (often)

  • Don’t wait

  • Have a long-term view – how do you want this relationship to go?


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