Tell me if I’ve got spinach in my teeth!

You’re in a meeting with the regional department heads from across the country. Your boss walks in and is about to begin the meeting. You look up and notice she has spinach in her teeth. Not just a little bit, but a great big wad of the stuff, right in between her front teeth!

Do you:
a/ Call out across the room ‘Mary you’ve got spinach in your teeth!’
b/ Try to get her attention by signaling frantically (yet subtly), whilst pointing to your own teeth.
c/ Go up to her and whisper in her ear ‘You’ve got something in your teeth Mary. You might want to go to the bathroom.’
d/ Look down and pretend you didn't notice because maybe, just maybe the spinach will shift of its own accord and the whole unpleasantness will be avoided.

Giving someone bad news can be hard. Whether it’s corrective feedback to an employee, saying no to a request for help or simply telling someone that they have spinach in their teeth. Whatever the reason, telling someone what we think they don't want to hear takes courage and tact.

In my work decoding people dynamics for improved performance, I see two main ways that people struggle with hard conversations – will and skill.

This means they either put off the conversation or ignore it altogether (their will is low), or they bumble along in the conversation and make the situation worse (their skill is low). Here’s a model I use to describe these two barriers to having an effective critical conversation. (I expand more on the model in the video.) 

Essentially the key to moving from Cringe-worthy conversations to Congruent conversations is to do two things:

1/ Change the way you view the conversation so you are more motivated to have it. For example, 
How are you holding your staff member back by not giving them this feedback?
If it were you, would you want to be told?

2/ Practice, practice, practice! Then practice some more. 

Start with the spinach and build from there. It does get easier.