Difficult conversations

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We all have to have difficult conversations.   Being a particular personality type, I used to be frustrated when working with colleagues with differing personality traits, because I could never understand why they just didn’t get it – why they needed thinking time when the case, or project, caught my imagination with the first glimmerings of data.  Then I did more reading into personality profiling, and came across the Myers Briggs theories around how all of us form judgements.

This work takes the principles developed by psychologist Carl Jung and posits that there are 16 basic personality types.  The more I read, the more I realised that most of the people I needed to lead, or persuade, thought about the world in a completely different way to me.  The more I reflected, the more I realised that I was in a small minority of extrovert, intuitive individuals in an organisation where more than 80% of decision makers were introverts who were comfortable with being cautious, interrogating extensive datasets and requiring lots of evidence before making decisions.

So what did I change when I realised what most of my colleagues were like?

I started sending written material to people in advance of meetings so they had a chance to absorb it.  They would always read the material and would never bluff their way through meetings!

I changed the way I organised meetings – rather than imply or be vague, I would name the fears people might have about change and address them explicitly rather than rely on colleagues picking up the vibes.

I would be more active in my listening: this meant the following:

  1. I would paraphrase what the person was saying back to them to ensure I understood them correctly.
  2. I would listen between the lines of what they were saying to ensure I picked up implicit meanings.
  3. I switched off the Paxman instinct and left space for people to say what they wanted to say.
  4. I stayed silent for much longer.  Often people are scared to do this but silence does not equate to assent.
  5. I did my homework.  Introvert subject experts need to know that the data, and more than one data source, supports your intended change.
  6. I developed patience.  Some people need time to absorb the implications of the evidence-led policy changes you might be recommending, and if you rush them, you’ll lose.  Because they;ll switch off.


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