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Courageous Conversations: Three Lessons on the Recovery of Trust

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Perhaps there is nothing more challenging than learning that people you care about (and need!) have lost faith in you. Though our first instinct might be to simply crawl into a hole, we know in our hearts that what is really called for is a “courageous conversation.”

What makes a really lousy day even worse? When you come home from work, fearing that you may have just lost the trust of a long-standing client, and your tween-age kid announces that you are a jerk.

Double whammy.

Perhaps there is nothing more challenging than learning that people you care about (and need!) have lost faith in you. Though our first instinct might be to simply crawl into a hole, we know in our hearts that what is really called for is a “courageous conversation.”

Three fundamental principles have stood by me, year after year, in such situations. They are, for me, wise lessons on the recovery of trust:

1. Breakdown Leads to Breakthrough

It is a natural human tendency to desperately try to “right the ship” when things don’t go the way we want. To go all out to return things to the pleasant state that we (often inaccurately) assume they were in before they broke down. As if breakdown is, in and of itself, a bad thing.

But breakdown can alternatively be viewed as a natural, important and potentially positive phase of any trusted relationship. On a corporate level, this syndrome has been elegantly articulated as the need to abandon the assumption of continuity. (Creative Destruction, by Richard Foster and Sarah Kaplan.)

On the personal level, it’s about changing the frame through which we view those inevitable challenging moments in all of our relationships – learning to welcome the difficult conversations as opportunities to deepen our trust for one another.

2. Acknowledgement vs. Agreement

I learned this lesson way too late in my life. I could have avoided so many knock-down, drag-out, emotionally-charged arguments if I had embraced this simple but profoundly important principle: just because I don’t agree with you, doesn’t mean I can’t acknowledge the validity of your perspective.

This is, of course, Negotiation Skills 101. Understand the other person’s viewpoint. Say it out loud. Articulate it better than they can. Celebrate its many virtues. But finally, in the end, point out that you disagree.

3. The Spirit of Curiosity

The most important principle that has served me in difficult conversations with friends and colleagues over the years is, quite simply, the spirit of curiosity.

This lesson is best illustrated in the inverse.

There is nothing that opens my heart and mind more than a conversation partner who, regardless of the intensity of our disagreement, maintains a genuine sense of intellectual humility—a willingness to investigate, explore and learn.

Questions of “Who is right” and “Who is wrong” quickly fade in the brilliant light of the more important question: “What is the truth?”

That’s where the courageous conversations – with our colleagues, our friends and even our children—can truly begin.

Thoughts? How do you approach courageous conversations?

Related Topics: Communication, Relationship Building, Sales Presence, All Posts, Leadership Presence, Management Advice, Company Culture

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