I was coaching two entrepreneurs who were partners in a services business. They were very good at what they did and their partnership made them a lot of money and afforded them great market brand and reputation.
However, they had very different personalities and they had an acrimonious relationship for a long time.
Even though their teams had to work closely together, somehow the two managed to navigate the business conversations and activities while staying clear of the need to directly deal with each other on a personal level.
They continued to avoid dealing with their personal conflicts, lack of trust and overall contentious relationship, even though it negatively affected the people under them, as well as the overall effectiveness of their company.
When I talked with each of them alone, they always had lots of blunt criticism and negative comments about each other. But, when the three of us had sessions together, their accusations always seemed watered down. They were not communicating in a straightforward, bold and honest way.
Every time one of them criticized the other I would first ask them, “Have you told your partner how you feel and what you want/need?” and if the answer was “No!”, as it often was, I coached them to go do so.
On several occasions when one of them would report: “We had a blunt conversation and I told my partner exactly how I feel and what I want,” the other would contradict the story and say: “We talked but we didn’t discuss anything new.”
I see this type of dynamic happening in organizations all the time. People can engage in straight talk with me, but then they water it down when they talk to the person with whom they need to have the blunt and direct conversation.
Why does this happen?
From my experience, it is due to one of the following reasons:
- People are not clear about what they want to say. When people speak in circles or stumble on words, or when they don’t know which words to use or how to phrase what they mean it is simply because they don’t know what they want to say. Many times, people enter conversations feeling confident about what they want to say but then during the conversation, they realize their thoughts are still half-baked and unclear. People are also unclear when they haven’t quite taken a solid, final stand on something yet. I have seen this happen many times. The minute people become clear about what they believe and want, they always find an appropriate and effective way to say it.
- People are not willing to own what they have to say. They are not willing to own the tough feedback, coaching, assessment or requests they have of others. This may seem a bit simplistic, however, if you net it out, I find that it all somehow boils down to courage. Having the courage to either dig deep and be clear about what we want to achieve and what we want to say, or actually coming out with it even if it may be uncomfortable to the person expressing or the person receiving.
So, next time you find yourself stuck in a conversation ask yourself: “Am I really clear about what I am trying to say?” or “Am I avoiding owning what I have to say?” This will help you move forward.