Increasingly we are looking at proactive approaches to help our clients prevent the issues that are keeping them up at night. One of the simplest ways to minimize interpersonal tensions is to be intentional about the conversations we are having, or not having, with each other. I recently read an article from Governance Solutions that highlighted the importance of having purposeful conversations at the Board level and it inspired me to share what I’ve come to know about the art and science of being an exceptional communicator.
Step 1: Be intentional. What is the goal of this conversation? What might be the best way to engage this person in a conversation? What are the risks of, and the risks of not, having the conversation? These are examples of powerful questions and they can be incredibly helpful to sport leaders as you prepare for these crucial conversations. Remember, every conversation gives you the opportunity to increase trust and strengthen relationships. We also believe that every conversation you are avoiding, creates more tension and can escalate to conflict, needlessly.
Step 2: Do the hard work first. Connect to your own personal values and beliefs and reflect on why this conversation is important to you. Consider how the other person might be feeling. What is their level of consciousness (meaning are they aware of the impact they have on others and can they broaden their perspective to include me, we, all of us)? Depending on the capacity of the other individual, leaders have to do the hard work first by not only assessing their own thoughts, feelings, biases, assumptions, worldview … they also have to do the heavy lifting to consider the perspective, feelings, and values of the other person. Why? Because knowing your audience will help you calibrate your communications and give you a greater chance of achieving your goal.
Step 3: Deliberate practice. We believe that the science behind exceptional communications is supported by both a rigorous methodology (some of our favourite picks include Fierce Conversations, Getting to Yes, Crucial Conversations) and is a skill that can be developed over time and with deliberate practice. We call this curating our inner artist. Exceptional communicators know and understand their audience, are clear about the experience they want to create, are open and empathetic, and have the skill to be radically candid. One way to get really good at this is to practice, deliberately, with people you trust. When stakes are high, emotions volatile, and there is sense of urgency (think Games time), people’s capacity to be honest, helpful, and compassionate can evaporate. What is left is often highly charged, reactive sound bites that serve to divide, not unite. Cultivating the capacity to be in these situations while being aware of our emotional state, attending to the other(s), and keeping the end goal in mind, takes practice. And it is a skill that will serve you both professionally and personally.
Step 4: Clarity strengthens relationships. One of the main reasons people come to the SLSG is because things aren’t clear. Policies are confusing. People sometimes act strangely. Conflicts escalate beyond what might seem reasonable or logical. Often, it’s due to a lack of clarity. Remember that clarity attracts, confusion frustrates. If you hold conversations as an opportunity to help people gain clarity, then having a curious mind will support healthier dialogue. People then feel respected, valued, seen, and heard. This then leads to inspired action. Sadly, the reverse is true. Too often people make assumptions about the clarity of something because it’s clear to them, without having paused to engage the other person in a conversation to ensure it’s clear for them. The only way to know for sure is to ask them. How clear am I being about this topic? Can you let me know what you believe are the next steps? What are the goals that you feel we just agreed to? These questions and more can help you gain clarity. My friend and ICF Coach Lauren Brett has a wonderful practice to help people ask powerful questions depending on the situation. If you are curious, please reach out to her at LLB@sportlaw.ca.
Step 5: Be courageous. It takes effort and skill to create a safe environment for people to be real with each other. We believe that most problems can be resolved through more effective and skilled communications. A few additional tips to get you thinking:
- Start with heart. Model the kind of approach you want to receive. Express yourself by using words like ‘I feel’ and by monitoring your non verbal communications. Remember that people will remember how you made them feel.
- Encourage good communications when you receive it. ‘Thanks for asking that question. I appreciate you listening. I need a moment to reflect on what you’ve just shared with me. Can I get back to you when I’ve had a chance to digest this?’ These are some examples of expressing appreciation for the gift of great communications.
- Apologize when you say something that you did not mean. Acknowledge the pain you may have caused. Ask what the other person needs to be able to work through this and honour their request. If someone intentionally or inadvertently says something that elicits a negative emotional response in you, take a step back, reflect on why this hurts so much, consider the relationship, and weigh your options. For those that retreat when conflict is present, remember that not having the conversation can further divide a relationship.