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Blog : Don’t do all the work


Don’t do all the work

It’s one of my favourite phrases, I use it on a daily basis and in my experience it helps unlock many of life’s little difficulties. 

‘Let me explain…’

As a Purple Cubed expert, my days often involve advocating the benefits of ‘challenging’ conversations with delegates; in a controlled environment I hasten to add.

In groups of three or four, delegates get the chance to practice these conversations. They’re asked to pick a real life situation which may be causing anxiety or one that didn’t play out too well previously; could be with their manager, colleague or direct report. I play the chosen person and after a quick brief on my behavior along with a check on the desired outcome we begin. It’s incredibly satisfying to see the look on their face turn from apprehension to concentration and trusting me after the first few sentences - it’s as real as if it was the conversation actually happening.

Without generalising too much, many people feel that they fall into one of three responses to this role-play:
• The need to solve: it’s my job, it’s what I’m paid for
• The need to tell: I should have the answers
• The need to stick to personal agendas

After a chunk of the conversation we stop and debrief.

There are always positives and it’s good to get people to focus on these first; it’s also a great way to have them look at how they provide feedback.  It’s wonderful when the group realise that their issues are universal and not something which sets them apart. Active listening, well-placed open questions and a bit of probing become recognised allies. Something that usually becomes apparent when we break down the conversation is just how much work they’re doing and therefore how little I, as the protagonist, have to do. When we discuss this inequality of airtime I let them in on a little secret; acting as their manager, colleague, or direct report is the easiest thing in the world - I just sit back and wait to have things solved or be given all the answers, and if the delegate is doing all the talking I don’t have to. Second time round the difference is noticeable. In the 15 years that I’ve been leading these sessions I can honestly say that it’s still an incredible thrill to have someone say that they feel differently about how they will approach a similar conversation in the future.

Obviously not every conversation is about dealing with someone challenging, but if you do happen to be planning an essential conversation, it’s useful to remember that you don’t have to do all the work.

How do you deal with difficult situations or challenging conversations?

Roger Lloyd-Thompson is a Purple Cubed expert specialising in creating real life scenarios through theatre workshops, to discuss challenging conversations and how to overcome these email holly@purplecubed.com

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