Something I hear over and over again from different clients is that they keep leaving business conversations without having said what they really wanted to say, without getting the answers they needed to move forward, and without getting commitments to put things into action.
This is a struggle I know well – not just because a huge part of coaching focuses on having better conversations, but because I lived that struggle for many years myself.
So… why do so many of us struggle to get anything meaningful out of conversations?
I’ve worked with people all over the world, and this struggle seems to transcend culture. Across the globe, people are afraid to speak what is on their mind. They are afraid to have authentic business conversations either because they fear the other person’s reaction or opinion, fear being rejected or their ideas not being important, or they fear the other person’s position and how they might handle the information.
The bottom line is fear. And let me tell you, fear is a powerful feeling.
But, let me ask you… how authentic are your business conversations? How much do you leave unsaid? How is that serving you?
The Co-Active Training Institute says, “A leader is one who is responsible for their world.”
As someone who is responsible for their world, you have it within your control to change the course of your conversations. You have the capability to enter conversations with authenticity and leave them feeling more fulfilled.
How can you do that? It’s all in how you choose to show up.
Here are 14 ways you can optimize how you show up in order to create authentic business conversations that genuinely move things forward:
1. Take control of your mindset and attitude going into the conversation
You feel like every conversation you have goes the same way. So why assume the next one will be any different? Well, one thing that absolutely can be different is the mindset and attitude you adopt going in.
Connect with your higher self, the Universe, your purpose before going into the conversation. Connect with your values.
Set the intention to speak from your heart and with the utmost respect.
Look for the connection point and latch onto that. Even if there is just 1% you like or respect in the other person, focus on that 1%. What you focus on, expands. It’s where growth happens.
Don’t go in as a tyrant. Make a commitment, here and now, to abandon the “I am right, you are wrong” mindset. Go in with curiosity, treating the other person as naturally creative, resourceful and whole, with the mindset that perhaps they can contribute to the situation something that you can’t.
Attitude is everything. You are responsible for the energy you bring into the conversation. Don’t be toxic or attempt to make someone feel powerless or in the wrong. Go into it with the intention to resolve, not win.
2. Own your part of it.
As Fred Kofman, PhD, Google’s leadership development advisor, and author of the book Conscious Business says, “Our goal is to explore each other’s reasoning, to understand why we think what we think. We need to assume that we have contributed to the current situation and explore our role in it.”
Yes, it might be hard to admit, and you might not see it right away, but you have contributed to the situation in some way. The sooner you are ready to see and accept that, the sooner you can open up a new way of looking at the situation and new possibilities can emerge.
This isn’t about blame. It’s about responsibility. Blame lives in the past. Responsibility strives to move forward.
3. Know your BATNA.
“How do I feel about this? What is important to me? In a perfect world, what would my ideal end result look like? What am I willing to settle for?”
This is your BATNA, or Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement.
Get clear on your best alternative before going in. By knowing your BATNA beforehand, you are able to go in with clarity on what you will or will not agree to.
When we leave a conversation feeling that nothing was accomplished or that we compromised on something we shouldn’t have, it’s usually because we lacked this clarity.
When you are confident in your BATNA in advance, you know where you need to stand firm and are free to be flexible in other areas.
4. Explore the other side; be curious!
Truly listen. Summarize what was said. Acknowledge their concerns. Confirm and validate them. Show empathy and convey that you care.
Always talk from your heart. “I hear you… I respect you… your demands are reasonable… here is what is happening and what is possible at this moment… “
Above all, stay curious. When someone speaks, assume you have no idea what they’re about to say (instead of assuming you know exactly what they’ll say, which so many do out of habit) and truly listen.
5. Practice “level 3 listening”.
Listening is more than just hearing words. It’s about building connection.
Level 1 listening is extremely common. This is where we’re maybe hearing the words of the other person, but our main focus is on our own opinions, judgements, what we’ll say next and so on.
At level 2, we turn our focus onto the other person more fully, hearing not just their words, but also noticing their body language, tone of voice, energy, direction of their gaze, everything.
At level 3, we’re still tuned into all the level 2 listening queues, but we now add in our intuition and mirror back what we’re seeing, hearing and intuiting. All without judgement or investment in the outcome – purely from a curiosity mindset.
That may sound something like this: “I hear your concerns and I see where you’re coming from. I feel like you’re holding back something you want to say. What’s up?”
It’s a really strong skill that helps people open up and be themselves. Even if they aren’t ready to open up, having you show up in that way helps them feel seen and truly heard, which is where true connection is formed and progress can begin.
6. Ask powerful questions to start excavating.
Imagine yourself as a conversational archeologist. You want to uncover what’s way beneath the surface but to do that, you have to gently start clearing away what’s at the surface. You can do this by asking open questions that really get people thinking.
You might try questions like, “What is most important to you? What does that look like to you? If you could have any role, what would that be?”
Ask questions to get the person thinking about what is going on and what they want to create, not to just repeat stories they can tell to anyone. Amazing things can surface in this way.
7. Do your part and initiate the authenticity.
Whether the other person is being authentic or not, choose to take responsibility for your part and be authentic. It’s very common that we tend to move ourselves to the level of the person we’re interacting with.
Instead of being the one doing the moving, harness that phenomenon by being the one to set the tone of authenticity. This keeps you at your highest level and gives the other person the opening to rise to your level. Whether or not they take that opening is up to them.
Committing to the level of authenticity brings good karma as you are treating people the way you would like to be treated. It isn’t easy to be authentic, but what is the cost of not being authentic? If we don’t speak our truth, we stay in the same place. Don’t let that be an option.
Either the person or the issue is important to you. Do your part by speaking up.
Remember, leaders have opinions. Bring energy to your point and don’t let it get shut down. Yes, in previous tips I’ve encouraged you to acknowledge and accept the other person’s point of view.
But acceptance is not acquiescence! It’s respecting the diversity of perspectives and experiences, and being open to alternative points of view. It does not mean compromising your values.
You can impact the energy in a conversation. Choose to be a leader in the conversation rather than a victim.
8. Be mindful of the words you say (and don’t say).
Speak from your point of view using open ended phrases. For example, try “The way I see it… The way I feel…” and so on vs. “We should do this… This is how it is going to be…” You want to co-create, not dictate.
Avoid attacking, blaming or taking a superior tone. Treat others as equal co-creators and believe that they truly can be equal co-creators.
Avoid phrases like, “You did this,” or “You should… ”. These phrases are loaded with judgment – intended or not – and tend to put people on the defensive.
Instead, try phrases like, “I would like…”, “It would help if…” or “I feel we would both benefit from…”
Don’t punish by withdrawing if you don’t get what you want. Remember that this is about resolving the problem to everyone’s benefit. Stay open. Keep asking, “What else is possible?” Get comfortable with the uncomfortable.
It might be uncomfortable speaking authentically, but better to be uncomfortable than to hold in anger and resentment, which will only spill over into other areas of your life. As Brene Brown, American professor, lecturer, author and podcast host says, “Discomfort over resentment.”
9. Bring out the left-hand column.
What’s the left-hand column? The LHC (or left-hand column) refers to everything going on in your head during a conversation that you choose NOT to share.
We hold back our LHC either because it’s toxic, (“Is this person crazy? Are they smoking something?”), or it could be gratitude and admiration you hold back because it’s uncomfortable, or maybe you don’t feel comfortable sharing your unique thoughts out of fear (“What will people think? What if I upset someone?”).
- Take a sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle of it.
- In the right-hand column, write out a conversation you recently had with someone.
- In the left-hand column, write out what you wanted to say at each step of the conversation, but you did not say, or what you were thinking or feeling during the conversation, but kept to yourself.
When we do this exercise, that LHC often comes out a lot longer than the right hand column. In an authentic conversation, however, that LHC would significantly decrease.
If you have a lengthy LHC, chances are high the other person does too. Start being open about yours in a professional way and chances are you will open up the space for the other person to be upfront about theirs as well. So much more is possible from this place!
Going into a meeting, be aware of what might be on your LHC ahead of time and set the intention to try to bring as much of that forward as possible. How would sharing your LHC impact the conversation, your relationship, or how you feel in the conversation? What is the impact of not sharing it?
There are facts, feelings, expectations and assumptions we each have that the other person might not be aware of, which will contribute to a better conversation.
Acknowledge the LHC. Make room for it at the table, whether it’s in a one-on-one conversation, with your team, or even your family.
Of course, some things should stay on the LHC. I’ve yet to ask someone, mid-conversation, “Are you smoking something??” And I think I’ll keep it that way 😉
10. Choose how you will respond.
If you get triggered, notice where you are triggered. It’s an indication of what you need to heal and not necessarily connected to the moment. This is where respond vs. react comes into play. When we aren’t fully aware of our triggers and their source, we’re more likely to react when something comes up. When we have that awareness, we’re able to interact responsively, rather than reactively.
Be alert to what makes you shut down and what makes you open up so that you can be intentional in choosing how you will respond.
11. Align around a common purpose
“Are our values aligned? Is there a common purpose? Is there a mutually beneficial agreement?”
A common purpose gives people something to continually work towards, together. It can also move conversations away from battleground-style conditions and towards an “us together” mindset where co-creation is possible.
Keep aligning on what you can agree on and grow from there.
12. Check in on how others are feeling during the conversation.
It’s important to acknowledge others’ feelings as it helps you have more authentic conversations and assures the people you’re connecting with that they are a valued part of this interaction.
Ask questions like: “How do you feel about what I said? What comes up when I say that? How do you see things? Have I addressed your concerns?”
13. Keep in mind where your responsibility ends and someone else’s begins.
There really is so much within our control and a great deal of responsibility that we can take on in a progressive way. However, it’s equally important to be aware of those boundaries where your responsibility ends and someone else’s begins. That’s as much about caring for yourself as it is about respecting another person’s areas of self-authority, regardless of what they choose to do with them.
For instance, if someone is dead set on getting a deliverable from you, but delivering on that date would mean compromising a higher priority item, say something like: “If I don’t get this high priority item out, what will I say during my presentation to the team? I will have nothing to report and our schedule will be off track.”
Put yourself in their shoes and understand their concern (remember, acceptance and acknowledgement are not acquiescence). Remind them of the priorities of the organization as a whole and where you have to put your efforts and priorities to align with those of the organization.
As for their deadlines, have compassion for them and encourage them to have authentic conversations with their teams as to why certain things can’t be met at certain deadlines and what is possible instead.
For many of us, maintaining these clear boundaries can bring feelings of guilt. That’s a trigger that needs your inward exploration, not your external capitulation. When you make decisions that align with organizational priorities, personal values, a common purpose, etc., someone may feel let down in the moment, but that feeling is theirs to explore.
Ultimately, you have done the opposite of let anyone down. You’ve embraced the discomfort necessary to continually move in the right direction. That’s leadership.
14. Don’t leave the conversation without moving forward.
Try not to let a conversation end until:
- You have fully expressed your thoughts;
- You’ve gained needed clarity on a situation;
- Your questions have been answered, or commitments (with a set date) have been made to follow up with answers;
- Or next steps have been determined.
Never leave a conversation without feeling it has moved forward in some way. If there is a time constraint, set a firm date and time for when you’ll pick the conversation up again.
When you are not authentic, people feel it, instinctively. And it backfires. When you are being you, you shine. You are happier and freer. You are also more productive, most likely because it’s exhausting trying to keep up being someone that is not authentically you.
When you choose to sit in discomfort rather than leave things to fester, you are actively doing the hard work of leadership. When you take down the walls, the LHCs, you become energized. People around you feel more comfortable and inspired to do the same.
Just imagine what a company full of authentic, engaged, openly communicating employees can achieve!
Authenticity always brings more authenticity and can shift any situation or conversation. Choose to set that tone.
This article first appeared Thrive Global.