Dr Amy Silver (main photo) is a psychologist, speaker and author of the book The Loudest Guest: How To Control And change Your Relationship With fear is a game-changer for those ready to learn how to reach their potential. Here, the goodly Doctor offers top tips on how to have hard conversations about growth with your team…
Marshal Goldsmith is famous for talking about feeding growth rather than feeding back, but how do we do that?! How do we make every conversation we have an opportunity for growth rather than shutting people down in their openness to change?
Growth conversations are any which promote us to think differently about our opportunities. They occur when either we see something new for ourselves or when someone else shows us something about ourselves previously unknown or unspoken.
We are hardwired to predict the risk of of being rejected from our tribe because we are not relevant, because we fail or because we expose a weakness. Our brains are the most complex of machines capable of intense work and creativity, however our front running operating system still centres around our need for safety. We are easily hijacked by the primitive fear seeking part of our brain when it perceives risk.
Fear will say something like will say “You are going to fail!”; “You will look so stupid to others”; “Don’t let people see you’re flaws”; “impress them at all cost”; “they don’t like you and that is awful”, “they now know you are an imposter” and so on. It is even active when we are the ones bringing the feedback, “don’t upset them” or “they’re not going to like you if you say that”. When fear is activated it has two favourite things it wants us to do to keep us safe, avoid (flight) or defend (fight).
Ways we approach growth conversations
Head First: Sometimes we head first into a growth conversation with little consideration with how the message is received or little responsibility to ensuring the message is received safely. The recipient of head first communication is triggered into an anxious state and will find it difficult to process the information successfully, missing important pieces and being left with less clarity. If triggered the recipient may retreat (avoid) and it will be hard to start a meaningful conversation. Alternatively, they may also respond head first, pulling into defensiveness, attacking, blame.
Head in the Sand: There is a danger that because we do not want to hurt someone or we do not want to be unliked, we avoid growth conversations even though we can see there is a need. We may also avoid seeking feedback preferring to bury our head in the sand. When we do this we keep conversations polite and avoidant, but not in growth territory. We end up having hidden conversations about people without them, or we skirt around issues that need to be raised. This lack of being able to lean into the difficult conversations, leads people to be at worst oblivious to what we think they could do to grow, or confused by unclear or indirect language. When a manager keeps their head in the sand about growth conversations, even though they may be viewed as pleasant they will be viewed as ineffective and wasting potential.
Head in the game: For a conversation to lead to growth both parties need to be involved in creating safety in the moment. That allows for information to travel back and forth. There is a constant dance between what we are trying to talk about (the message) and the unspoken conversation (our feelings). We want to hold the space safely for both of us to be able to give our perspective, wonder and ideate and decide on next steps. This is how we maintain trusted relationships that create growth.
Our fear response is present in any growth conversation, whether we are the instigator or recipient, whether it is planned or unplanned. When we have growth conversations, we must notice and understand how to control our fears so that we can navigate the content and make use of it.
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