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7 Keys to Having a Courageous Conversation With Anyone

7 Keys to Having a Courageous Conversation With Anyone

         “The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right place but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment”  Dorothy Nevill

Do you have issues in your professional and personal relationships that are weighing you down? Is your boss asking too much of you but you don’t know how to to let him know that you are not coping? Do you have questions that you want to ask your partner, but you are too afraid to ask? If the answer is yes – then it is about time you had a “Courageous Conversation” – a conversation where you  speak up and express how you feel about these issues that are weighing you down.

There have been many times in my life when I should have had a courageous conversation but I didn’t. One of the main reasons why I didn’t was because I didn’t know how. When I discovered these 7 keys to having a courageous conversation I found a framework that helped me to have a “Courageous Conversation”, in which I was able to express and articulate my thoughts and opinions in a way that avoided awkward situations, quickly cleared up misunderstandings and created positive relationships in my life.

According to the Oxford Dictionary Courage is derived from the Latin word Cor which means heart. In Old French there is the word Corage which denotes the heart as the centre of all feelings. The following 7 keys will help you to be courageous and have conversations in which you are able to express your deepest feelings. A Courageous Conversation will lighten your heart and your life.

These 7 keys have helped me to find the courage to have conversations that I was too afraid to have before.

1. Deal with your Fears

Fear is one of the main reasons that stop you from having a Courageous Conversation. Fear has many disguises. One way through which you can recognise fear is to identify excuses like “the situation is not that bad” or “maybe the problem is not worth mentioning”. These thoughts are dangerous because here fear tries to keep you from being courageous.

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Self Limiting Beliefs fuel fear and it is important that you get clear as to what these specific self limiting beliefs are. Maybe you fear rejection, maybe you fear that you could make it worse, or maybe you feel vulnerable. The list of excuses goes on and on.

There are two questions I ask myself when I’m dealing with fear:

1. What are the consequences if I do nothing?

2. Am I willing to accept these consequences?

To be honest there have been a couple of times when I have said “Yes I am ok with the consequences of not having the conversation”. The outcome was that the relationship did not improve and that the nagging feeling of resentment grew. The outcomes from not having courages conversations never served me well.

2.  Deal with your EGO

Sort out your ego. It can get in the way of being objective and achieving a solution targeting the good of a relationship, not you, the individual. In a Courageous Conversation you express your feelings and are true to yourself. If your ego is controlling your heart and if you are protecting your ego you will focus on being right instead of being true. Your conversation will be about your frustration or anger towards the other person. If the conversation is about you and your sense of entitlement then the conversation will not end well. I guarantee that if you are focussed on pleasing your ego it will go down hill. The other person will feel attacked and will fight back. There will be no resolution.

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Once you get your ego sorted and you are authentic about sharing your thoughts and feelings, you will be more open to listening to the other person’s side of the story. Remember that a Courageous Conversation aims to seek resolution for the benefit of the relationship rather than the individual. When you speak true to yourself, the message will be received and felt by the other person.

“The single most important thing you can do is to shift your internal stance from “I understand” to “Help me understand.” Everything else follows from that. . . Douglas Stone

3. Know WHY you want to have a Courageous Conversation.

Before you start a Courageous Conversation be very clear as to WHY you are having it. What is the purpose and what do you hope to achieve? Once you have sorted out the WHY you will be able to decide what the “risks” of having the conversation are. If you decide to have the conversation, you need to clear up the following 3 things:

  1. What you are trying to ACHIEVE?
  2. What you are LISTENING for?
  3. What gives you the RIGHT to initiate the conversation?

4. Be Prepared to Experience Discomfort

In a Courageous Conversation you have to be prepared to discuss the “undiscussable” – the issues that you don’t want to deal with, but that you know you have to face. Also, the other person may not like what you are saying and may not want to hear it at all. After having sorted out the reason why you are having the conversation, you have to think about how you should set up the meeting. The first step to minimising the feeling of discomfort is to GET AGREEMENT from the other person on having the conversation.

Once you have agreement, begin the conservation by telling your side of the story which includes the following 3 points:

  1. WHY you want to have the conversation
  2. WHAT the issue is that you want to discuss
  3. HOW this issue is affecting you

In telling your story you are opening up the opportunity for a dialogue and you invite the other person to join in. If the response is favourable the next step for the two of you is to start exploring each other’s stories and to work out how to move forward.

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5. Be Real about Your Expectations

We can prepare and plan for a Courageous Conversation. However we can not control what the outcome will be. We are only in control of ourselves. Most people are more comfortable with keeping old problems unresolved rather than working on a solution, so you may not be able to find a common ground. Be prepared for that. If the potential solution requires the other person to make some significant changes then they may need time to reflect about the conversation. So don’t expect that by having a courageous conversation you will get immediate results. Be realistic about your expectations.

6. Set the Emotional Tone for the Conversation

The more sensitive the issue is, the more likely it is that your emotions are raw and exposed. If the issue is emotional for you, then you need to make sure that you are calm enough to be clear about what you want to say.

In this situation it is a good idea to write out what you want to say and practise with a friend or supporter. Getting your emotions under control enables you to listen objectively to the other person and to respond calmly. With preparation and practice you are less likely to allow your emotions to take over. If you do get upset and find it difficult to continue then you have to suggest that you both take a break. Get commitment to reschedule the meeting for another time.

The big three blind spots are tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language. The listener is very aware of these, the talker is not.”  Douglas Stone

7. Avoid these 7 Key Mistakes at ALL Cost

The intent of a Courageous Conversation is to look forward to solutions not backwards to blame. It is also about speaking the truth, being transparent and vulnerable. This is very hard and chances are that you will mess it up sometimes. That’s ok, Don’t give up. Keep going, keep practicing. Like with a sporting activity which is new to you, the more you practice the better you get! There are however 7 key mistakes which will turn a Courageous Conversation into a toxic conversation!

  1. Talking too much
  2. Having an unclear message
  3. Not thinking about the other person’s feelings
  4. Starting the conversation by saying “So how is it going?”
  5. Trying to oversimplify the issue .If it was simple then it wouldn’t be difficult to deal with!
  6. Over-rehearsing and memorising the script – this will block you from being real
  7. To get caught off guard and to lose sight of the goal. When this happens we tend to fall back into our defence mode or if it’s really bad we go back to “combat mode” and it can turn ugly! If it does get really difficult remember to come back to the 7 keys – keep your content clear, stay calm, keep your tone neutral and your EGO in check.

A Courageous Conversation is a tool that helps to resolve relational conflict. The 7 keys help you to prepare to have successful courageous conversation. You may not always get the outcomes you want, however, if you keep having courageous conversations your relationships in your professional and personal life will thrive and prosper.

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So go be COURAGEOUS and have that conversation you know you need to have but are too afraid to.

Come to the edge, He said.
They said: We are afraid.
Come to the edge, He said.
They came. He pushed them

And they flew . . .” 

— Guillaume Apollinaire French Poet

More by this author

Kathryn Sandford

Career Resilience Coach passionate about supporting others to grow and thrive in a complex world.

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Last Updated on March 21, 2019

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

“What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

1. Start Small

The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

Do less today to do more in a year.

2. Stay Small

There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

Why?

Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

Peter Drucker said,

“What you track is what you do.”

So track it to do it — it really helps.

But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

5. Measure Once, Do Twice

Peter Drucker also said,

“What you measure is what you improve.”

So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

For reading, it’s 20 pages.
For writing, it’s 500 words.
For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

6. All Days Make a Difference

Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

Will two? They won’t.

Will three? They won’t.

Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

What happened? Which one made you fit?

The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

7. They Are Never Fully Automated

Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

10. Punish Yourself

Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

11. Reward Yourself

When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

In the End, It Matters

What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

“Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

Keep going.

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More Resources to Help You Build Habits

Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
[2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
[3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
[4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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