Fresh Insights

A while back I wrote that ‘Content and Intent is all you need’ when it comes to having conversations that make a big difference.  I want to explore this and help us understand what WE bring to our conversations or feedback that turns them south.

I’m referring to those conversations we have that damage.  They damage the relationship with the other person, the message we are trying to send and ultimately the outcome suffers.

I was working with a client to, let's put it kindly, 're-draft' their conversation with one of their Sales Managers about how behind on budget he was.  She thought stating the fact he was behind was enough.  It wasn't.  

Firstly, she needed to give him the facts about how far behind he was, discuss numbers of budget to actuals and how much more time he had to make budget. The time he had was 2 weeks, (unless there was a decent pipeline about to land) and that it was a concern.   

She was going to 'let him know' that not meeting this budget was not going to look good for her with the CEO.  Whilst this was true - her intent of the conversation appeared to be about her and how she was perceived by the CEO.  This was not his concern and certainly wouldn’t motivate him to change.

Damaging conversations are missing two vital ingredients. Great content and well grounded intent.  They wound the people we are with and the outcomes we are looking to achieve when;

  1. The content has little preparation and facts
  2. The intent has little care and no responsibility

Content is cool

In my 20 + years of experience studying and having conversations, poor content mostly stems from not having the tools.  And I’m not talking about the tools on your team.  It's about knowing how to prepare and structure the conversations.  Especially gathering some good ol’ fashioned facts.  Not ‘alternative facts’.  I’m talking about information that people can not argue with.  Numbers, times, dates, what someone actually said and did. 

When we fail to present the facts, we are merely discussing opinions.  If this is not backed up by why we have come to this thinking, then the conversation can go south, fast.  This content damages.  In it’s worst case it is what I call ‘verbal assassination’.

Intent is essential

We hear the content yet we smell the intent.  You know that feeling in your gut when someone is telling you something but you’re not buying it.  It’s usually that we don’t trust or believe what is being said. 

The reason we get these feelings has many layers. To name a few;

  • You might not trust the person
  • You might believe they have their own interest ahead of your own
  • You might have trust issues yourself

10% of conflicts are due to difference of opinion (content).  90% due to tone (intent). 

Again, sit in your shoes and ask yourself before you have a conversation.  Why am I saying this?  What am I looking to gain?

Be really honest with yourself.  I can recall several conversations where my true intent was to let the other person know that they were wrong and I was right.  I wrapped it up in ‘just wanted to share my observations’ but the saying that you ‘can’t polish a turd’ springs to mind.

If you are coming from a good place then others smell this and will work with you to understand the content. 

We’ve all been on the receiving end of damaging conversations.  If we are honest with ourselves we have also fallen into the trap of giving them.  So let’s take responsibility for what we can control – ourselves.  Let’s learn for us and ultimately those around us.


If you want to become a legend at giving and receiving feedback get your own copy of my first book or ebook of Fixing Feedback.

The way some people are wired is that they need to be right (AKA Righties). Righties are continually on trial to prove that what they say, and what they do, is correct. They will often go to great lengths to demonstrate their ‘rightness’, including hurting people they love and respect. These people are not big on apologies as they don’t feel they are necessary or warranted. Yet some give them to keep the peace, even if they don’t mean it.

When having a conversation, they struggle to listen effectively to all the content because they are too busy selecting evidence to build their case. They are many steps away from the ‘real truth’ in discussions as their opinion is the only one that counts. Being wrong is unlikely and unpalatable for a Rightie and not something they like to contemplate. In fact, when you are right you can’t see that you could be wrong. It is a blind spot for many.

You would have worked with these types of thinkers, you may even have them as friends, you may have even married one. They are not bad people. They just have a flawed way of looking at things. But for them, it is right (pardon the pun).

In the workplace, trying to brainstorm a new product or process with Righties can be tough as their idea is the correct one. You may have had passionate discussions (polite name for arguments) with them and you struggle to be heard.

I have spent a long time, and will continue to do so, undoing my ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’ thinking. It was in my bones. In my DNA. In my upbringing. Defending my position was what I learnt to have a seat at the table.

‘I’m not arguing. I’m explaining why I’m correct’. If you resonate with this statement then chances are you may need to be right. . It also stifles creativity and innovation as it does not allow for other’s opinions and ideas.

One of the best relationships Righties can have is with themselves. Unfortunately, being a Rightie is also a fast track to a life of professional and personal isolation. Carol Dweck, author of ‘Mindset: The New Psychology of Success’, tells us that type thinking of ‘fixed mindset’ thinking, where things are black or white, win or lose, is an unhealthy one. For us, and for those around us. It is a ‘growth mindset’ we should aim for, where we focus on what we can learn from situations, people and information, that will set us up for a smarter decisions and more productive and satisfying relationships.

A better way of looking at things is ‘I never lose, either I win or I learn’. This works for me. What about you?

To learn more of the thinking traps we fall into, ask me for my white paper; ‘The Board of Directors that live in our head’. There is a solution.

‘Don’t interrupt me while I am letting you hear what I’m saying’.

Yep… we’ve all been on the receiving end of those people that love hearing the sound of their own voice more than yours.  Or perhaps you can be honest enough with yourself to say that sometimes you might have moments of falling into this category as well (more than you choose to be honest about).  For many of us that take most of the air time in a conversation it is your turn to learn that these are known as ‘Yoursations’.  You could practically have them without the other person… you just can’t see it.  You’re too busy having your point heard or telling your stories.  You probably wonder why people don’t listen to you too hey?!

Let’s think about a conversation as a set of scales.  When you are talking the most you are at the highest point of the scales.  Then where is the person you are talking to? Down the bottom… bombarded by your content, voice, being talked at… perhaps feeling undervalued, disrespected and definitely unheard.  There needs to be an even tipping of the scales for a remarkable conversation to be had… otherwise it’s a yoursation.

A conversation should feel like a dance – back and forth, back and forth. 

So why do we do this?

Social psychologist Gemma Cribb says the people who are most likely to be over-talkers are:

ü  People with Asperger’s-type disorders

ü  People who are anxious and babble out of nerves, trying to please the person they are talking to

ü  Narcissists, who think that what they have to say is very important and entertaining

Other common reasons are;

ü  A bad habit of cutting people off and verbal diarrhea

ü  A lack of self awareness and focusing on self

Aside from these popular beliefs there is another way to understand why ‘Yoursationalists’ do this.  To put it into context it is when the conversation is getting tough… ‘those’ conversations.

Talking non stop, or most of the time, in a conversation can occur when someone isn’t feeling safe enough in the conversation.  There is a perceived threat to them – whether physical or emotional, so they go into protection mode.  They have a natural stress response in these situations, which means their default position is attack.  In conversations at work the threat felt is typically to their character, identity, self of self worth and often ego.  So the questions you can start pondering when your stress response turns into fight and you talk at the person, not with them, might be;

Why do I not feel safe enough for the other person to be able to contribute equally? 

Is this fair?

Will this develop respect or damage it?

Do I care enough about the other person to hear their perspective?

What don’t I want to hear and why?

Do I need to win this?  Why?

Either way, it’s not cool and it does not create trust.  It says…. I want to win or own this conversation as I am right and I have more important things to say than you do.

One of the greatest gifts you can give someone is not your advice but your purity of attention…. Listen… really listen.  The goal is to expand the conversation NOT narrow it.

So if you want to develop trust and respect with your colleagues, friends and family… Shut the h*&l up!  It will make a difference and you might even learn more.  After all, all you have is your perspective and that’s not the real truth… that’s just your truth.

Is honesty the best policy?  Do we stand behind….”I’m just being honest” as an excuse to verbally assassinate someone?

You’re in a performance review and your Manager tells you that a couple of your colleagues think your ego walks in the door two hours before you do.  It’s ok though…. He’s “just being honest”.

You’re having a discussion with a colleague and she raises her voice, points her finger and lets you know that “you should keep your mouth shut unless someone asks for your opinion”.  It’s ok though…. She’s “just being honest”.

Then there’s one of my favourites that happened to a good friend of mine recently. He just finished a finely tuned talk that he had been preparing for weeks and someone he knew came up to him after and said; “That’s the first time you have spoken and I haven’t wanted to slap you”.  It’s ok though…. She’s “just being honest”.

Those four words…. “I’m just being honest”.  They seem to give some people permission to say whatever they think.  After all… we live in a world of free speech.  But there are consequences…. serious long term ones.  Not only have the trust and respect bank been depleted but so has the ‘discretionary effort’ bank too – whether we are friends or work colleagues.  We don’t want to go the extra distance for these people anymore.  They have hurt us.

We’ve all worked with abrasive people.  Laura Crawshaw, Founder of the US-based Boss Whispering Institute, says there are two types of abrasive leaders;

1. those with a mental disorder

2. those with a ‘moral disorder’

So why do people chose to grind your self esteem down to the size of a pea?  There are many reasons.  We are complicated beings.  The common ones are;

Blamers: Those that always think someone else is the problem and it is someone else that needs to change.

All about Me’ers: The “I’m right. You’re wrong. The end” kind of tactics.  They need to win.

Black and White Thinkers: They jump to conclusions based on small pieces of information and sometimes none at all.  They are quick to label and quick to judge.

Catastrophisers: (Yes it’s a new word I have made up) They tend to blow things out of proportion.  Things are dramatic and “always” and “never” is common in their language.

Working with these types of people has a significant effect on the engagement of your people and the culture you create.

People will leave.

The good ones will go first.

Productivity will decrease.

Absenteeism will become an issue.

At-work accidents start increasing.

It’s our own moral compass that we need to take ownership of.  When we speak our words can harm our colleagues and we create an emotional wake… whether we like it or not.

We have learnt two very important techniques at Can We Talk?;

Firstly, the content needs to be delivered with facts – not your opinions or feelings as these are often the damaging pieces.

AND, it is not what you say but how you say it that can makes the difference.

The difference between something said in frustration and with accusation, versus the same thing spoken tentatively and with compassion is enormous.

I’ll finish with the three gates that Rumi, one of the most influential Persian poets of the 13th century, will help you consider whether you need to say what you think is right;

Gate 1: Is it true?

Gate 2: Is it necessary?

Gate 3: Is it kind?

So next time you start a conversation with… “Don’t take this the wrong way but…..”  Think again.  Georgia Murch can show you a better way so can blend being candid with being kind and still have a strong relationship at the end of it.  Talk to us.


About Georgia

Georgia is obsessed with the power of great communication. She knows how great communication leads to great collaboration and helps create outstanding cultures.

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Phone: 0402 119 333