Are You an Ostrich?

I meant that metaphorically of course – I know you are not an ostrich. They can’t read! 

Let me be more specific.  There is a tendency – when facing something we don’t want to deal with – to figuratively stick our head in the ground, like an ostrich and not deal with whatever that is. 

Last week this was a subject that came up a lot in one of my coaching groups.  This group of leaders are what you may call – quiet leaders.  They are people who see themselves as introverts and have risen to the position of leader because they are really good at what they do.  In some cases, they are so good at it that they decided to start their own business. 

They are managers or owners of business in different industries – one is a partner in a law firm, one a partner in an accountancy practice, another runs an IT company, another is in engineering.  Different industries, different products and services, differing operating practices.  But the one thing they all had in common is …. they don’t feel comfortable dealing with difficult conversations.

All Difficult Conversations Have One Thing in Common – They are Difficult!

To be fair to them – NO-ONE likes dealing with difficult conversations.  Well – maybe barristers or interrogators!  But most average human beings seek to avoid conflict wherever possible. 

All sorts of tricky conversations need to be had from time to time in business, don’t they?  There might be a board meeting – pr a partners meeting, where you know there will be people who disagree with you.  How do you get your point across and come to a win-win scenario?

Perhaps you need to have a difficult conversation with a client about how much their bill is going to be this month.  How do you approach that without losing a client? 

Maybe you need to have a word with one of your team, who hasn’t done the best job they could on a project you gave them. You don’t want to demotivate them or cause any staff turnover, but you do need to address the poor delivery.  How do you do that without causing a mutiny?

Difficult conversations are hard, and it is sometimes just easier to stick your head in the sand like the proverbial ostrich, and not have to ‘go there’.

The Problem With Being An Ostrich

Not dealing with a tricky conversation might feel like a relief in the short term – Phew – you got through another day without having to have any sort of confrontation!  But the problem is – the problem itself doesn’t go away.  And actually, by not addressing it you are creating a bigger problem which you might not see coming (like the predator creeping up on the ostrich).

The board meeting/partners meeting that you do NOT step up at, leads to things being done that you fundamentally don’t agree with.  That is not going to lead to any happiness at work for you, might increase your workload or may be against your values.  That is going to lead to resentment on your part.

The client who you DIDN’T tell about the cost of your extra charges (albeit for extra work they asked for) is going to be shocked when they get your bill.  It will no doubt turn into an argument – perhaps conducted by email (I mean, we don’t want to speak to anybody right?) and then almost certainly the loss of the relationship and maybe the client themselves.

The member of staff that you didn’t want to upset, who now probably thinks they did a great job, is not going to change their bad habits for good ones because they don’t know any better.  Or if they DO know better that is worse – because now they know they have got away with bad performance once, they can do it again, and again. 

How Not To Be An Ostrich

OK – so we agree?  It’s not a good idea to take an ostrich approach to difficult conversations.  But here’s the thing.  How to have difficult conversations is probably not anything you have been taught.  They certainly don’t teach this at school – and they probably should! 

You may not have had any management training before you were promoted/started your own business.  And it is definitely NOT something that comes naturally to most people.

So, what do you do?

Well, you need to be more of a wasp than an ostrich. You know – have no fear – take on things that look much bigger than you and just keep coming. Well, that’s wasps anyway. For you – you could buy a book on Amazon, but would you agree that reading about something is not the same as doing it? 

One of the things we do in my group coaching programs is practice!  We can discuss conflict and then practice having these tricky conversations so they are easier to do in real life! Having a strategy also helps.  As does understanding and recognising behaviour in others, that gives us clues about the best way to deal with those people. 

At the very least you will feel like you have a toolkit to dip into when faced with those conversations.  And even when you don’t get what you want, you can feel proud of how you showed up.  But actually, when you have those difficult conversations, somehow they are rarely as difficult as you imagined they were going to be. 

I’m running a series of free masterclasses for people who want to be ‘confident communicators’ – drop me an email to julie@thinkbedoleadership.com if you would like a place or more info.

PS – For clarification – Ostriches do not in fact stick their heads in the sand.  They lay their eggs in nests, in holes dug in the ground.  Every so often the birds stick their heads in to rotate the eggs.  You can see why the Romans might have thought they were hiding but they don’t need to.  At 40mph they can outrun all their predators and they can deliver a kick that would kill a lion.  But a good metaphor never dies!

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