Difficult & Fierce Conversations – How to make People Love and Respect You
“I am sorry I did not respond to you for a year.”
“I hope that you are not angry at me, but I think I was right to speak out against you even though you think I don’t have all the facts”
“I am really sorry I am late. My daughter’s program went four hours longer than I thought and the school just did not tell me and even though I had a cell phone.. you know how it is when you have a daughter…”
“Ah.. sorry I did not realize our appointment was today. What was the topic again? I know I got the email from you but I was so busy…”
“Have I not paid that invoice? Did you send it 13 times last month? I could have sworn…”
Sound familiar? It is the sound of someone hiding behind an excuse, covering up, being ‘nice’ but untruthful, making ‘nice’ but really making you wrong, and/or doing their best to camouflage their embarrassment or error.
Being good human beings who have evolved to do their best to have people love us, we go to the default state of kowtowing to compromise our values and being super nice or accommodating.
This is disgusting and must stop.
This is Not Training to be Ruthless with No Empathy
You can be empathetic and ruthlessly straight at the same time. In fact, you should be for their sake, your sake, and for the sake of humanity. Allow me to explain.
The 13th-century origins of the word nice were ‘to be foolish”. That meaning still has some relevance today in the domain of team and employee leadership and management. Being nice is not being empathetic.
Being nice has its payoffs and its costs. The payoffs are
- Remaining comfortable in not addressing the highly confronting ‘rhinoceros in the room’
- Silently making the other wrong – some neuroscientific experiments show our pleasure centers lighting up when we refuse to let go of making others wrong
- Staying and remaining ‘cool’ – creating the appearance (true or false) of being loved and accepted
- You get some short term ‘relief’ from not having to deal with this issue right away
The costs are
- The issue you are upset at will probably arise again – predictably causing you long term suffering
- You will feel disrespected and ‘incomplete’ in the matter
- Your stress level will go up over time
- Your productivity and their productivity will probably go down
- Your level of satisfaction and health will probably go down
- You may in extreme cases ‘go postal’ and do something drastic
The last point, by the way, is not an exaggeration. I am called in very often by my corporate clients to ‘handle postal situations’.
“Okay, Sunil. I get the point. What are the solutions?”
1. Prevention: From Day one: Create Partnership
Find out what they need. Be clear about what you need. Make both what you need and what they need measurable and specific so that there is no lack of clarity. Create deadlines and timelines. Do this even if you are working with a friend or relative; ask them to respect you even when you put on your “Boss Hat”.
2. It takes work – accept it. Management and Respecting Promises as a practice
Give up the idea that leadership looks like you sitting back with a pina-colada every day whilst everyone else does the work.
Create systems (e.g. periodic meetings) to check on promises (on track, done, not done). Practice accounting rigorously for your own promises. If you are not accounting for your own promises, shame on you and they have every right to mutiny.
3. When they come to you apologetic: The respect and dignity part
Listen to what they have to say. Nod and hold their hand if that is appropriate. Then look them straight in the eye and say “I can forgive you, but first I need to restore fairness, respect, and dignity in our relationship for both of us. But even before that, I must be sure that you are willing to have a professional relationship with me that is based on mutual fairness, respect, and dignity: can I count on you for that?”
If they say no, fire them or call me to get clear on what to do next.
If they say yes, then make clear and specific requests and let them know that these are non-negotiable from now on. E.g. “Can I count on you to be in communication with me within 24 hours if there are any issues with you delivering on any promises you make to me or the team?”
If they hem and haw, give them space. Some people need a longer gestation time: but I would not give them more than 15 minutes.
“I get all your points and my request is rather straightforward: do you accept yes or no?”
Fierce Conversations: Nuances and Complexities
Am I simplifying? Of course, I am. I cannot give you everything in 957 words or less. However, I hope you get the spirit of this article; being ruthlessly empathetic is way better than being only ruthless OR being only nice.
Enjoy the day, Embrace your challenges and Celebrate Triumphs with Ferociousness.
Since 1991, I’ve been reflecting on, designing, and implementing methodologies and systems for bringing a transcendent, creative and innovative approach to critical aspects of entrepreneurship.