Something I’ve found when I’m coaching leaders is that a lot of really important conversations they should be having with people simply don’t happen. Anything from poor behaviours in team meetings, to encouraging staff back into the workplace after illness. The problem here is that these issues don’t magically go away. In fact, unattended they can grow day by day until it feels like they can’t be faced. So, nothing changes, or the situation worsens.
Here are the biggest reasons I hear for avoidance: The topic, the person, their relationship to that person, risk and fear of it going wrong for both parties, their personality type – especially people pleasers, fixed positions, judgement and bias, not enough time, leaving it too late. If you recognise any these in yourself, and are currently avoiding a conversation, you need a model to de-risk it. Here’s one that works.
I call the model TICAS: Topic, Impact, Curiosity, Action, Support. Call the person in and apply it. Here’s an example:
Topic: “John, when you were in the team meeting yesterday you talked over people on 5 separate occasions.”
Tip: Use solid data, avoids argument and losing control of the conversation.
Impact: “Some of the team felt that you weren’t listening to them, and as a result, they are less likely to contribute their ideas in future. That’s not where we want to be as a team.”
Tip: Don’t miss out this section by assuming others can make the connection between their behaviour and the impact on others. Many people lack self-awareness, so be clear.
Curiosity: “So, I was just curious to what extent you were aware of what you were doing and the impact it was having.”
Tip: This is the most important part of the conversation, maintaining an openness to listen to the other person and give them a chance to respond from their perspective.
Action: “So what thoughts do YOU have about how you can change your behaviour in these meetings?”
Tip: Avoid ‘what are WE going to do about it?’ They have to fix it in their way and you are not responsible. Probe for what might get in the way of their solution and how they can mitigate against it.
Support: “What support do you need from me/team/manager/HR/organisation?”
Tip: If you’ve used the model well, they will probably so ‘It’s ok, I’ve got this’. In any case, end the conversation by suggesting a follow up chat to check on progress.
If you miss out a section, the conversation can de-rail or be less effective. If you ignore the flow of the TICAS model and use sections in the wrong order, you will increase your risk of triggering the other person into negative reaction. Watch what happens when you start in the wrong place:
Starting with Impact: John, people don’t like it when you talk over them, and you’ve got to remember we’re a team.
Possible reaction: ‘When did I talk over them – no one’s said anything to me’ (No specific context given for the discussion)
Starting with Curiosity: “John, how do you feel when someone talks over you in a meeting?”
Possible reaction: “I guess I wouldn’t like it…” (Feels guarded, suspicious, unprepared, confused, anxious about where the conversation is going)
Starting with Action: “John, when are you going to stop talking over people in meetings?”
Possible reaction: ‘I don’t….’ (Feels ambushed, accusation from nowhere, likely to defend)
Starting with Support: “John, what have we got to do to get you listening to other people?”
Possible reaction: “What ideas have you got?” (Puts the onus on you to solve his problem)
Difficult conversations are generally termed ‘Transformational conversations’ nowadays, since both parties benefit from the openness and insights available, when they’re done well. Take courage, prepare well and have a go at one this week.
Ian McKechnie has over 20 years’ experience in the financial services and marketing sectors, and over 10 years’ experience as MD of a client research company.