Difficult conversations in times of crisis

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This are basically my notes and thoughts after watching a Startup grind online event where they interviewed Jordi Miro.

Jordi talked about how he confronted complicated conversations and he mentioned a book and study done by Douglas Stone (a lecturer at harvard law school) on difficult conversations and how to approach them. I highly recommend searching for the author on Youtube.

On our day to day lives we maintain relationships with bosses, employees, coworkers, partners and friends. And more often than we would like, something comes up that is difficult to address, specially because we want to address these issues without creating distancing or unsavory moments.

Before I go into specific situations that where mentioned in the interview and/or talks from Doug Stone, lets go over a few principles and their underlying assumptions or truths that make a conversation go awry.

Underlying every difficult conversation are actually three deeper conversations. The “What happened?” conversation usually involves disagreement over what happened, what should happen, and who is to blame. The feelings conversation is about the parties’ emotions, and their validity. The identity conversation is an internal conversation that each party has with herself, over what the situation tells her about who she is.

Going in into any complicated conversation, we have to understand that we don’t know a few thing, for example, what the other person assumes as the truth, the emotions underlying their view and how the identity or from which position they are coming into the conversation with.

And also, very important, we tend to assume we know better but even if we end up being right, the way we lead and control the conversation can massively affect the outcome and the relationship with the person going forward.

So as a general rule, understand that there might be things that you don’t know or understand that directly or indirectly affect the way people see the topic in question or themselves regarding you. And this part takes a bigger chunk than we might expect in some situations like employee-boss conversations.

So, any complicated conversation has a big component of learning, and we cant learn if we don’t listen and remain unaltered by what we might consider attacks (criticism, personal remarks, raising voices, etc).

Controlling the conversation and learning:

  • Acknowledging both your own views and their (differing) views, try to understand where they are coming from.

Now. Lets go over a few specific cases that they went through on the talk that pertain primarily to startups and/or entrepreneurs

Should you approach investors or VCs during uncertain times?

Why not? If you have a good proposition, a good plan and road-map, you should just do it. The worst thing that can happen is that they say “not now” and give you a reason or an alternative. But remember Investors are just people, business people, if they like the team, the project and the road-map. They have a fund that they need to deploy.

But lets not bullshit here, It’s going to be tougher than before for sure, there is a feeling of unpredictability. Just like if you try to find a job right now, its going to be harder.

Hard times are coming, how to talk about closing shop?

Ending a project is always crazy hard, specially if you have investors, employees, an office and dreams attached to it. But its a reality that many will have to call it a day.

Its always hard to know when its time to pull the plug. Jordi in the interview made the remark that I think its very true; we have to learn to close companies before we usually do, specially entrepreneurs. See the signs, run the numbers and be pragmatic.

A good point about keeping information flowing always and never waiting until there is no time to have a real conversation: If your employees and/or investors are surprised about the hard conversation (whatever it may be) you’re not doing a great job at communicating.

Closing your company, laying off a percentage of your work force, a dramatic reduction in runway. These are the type of things that should never be surprises. Honesty and communication are extremely important, share as much you can as long as that information doesn’t harm your company in the moment. Its a fine line and can only be determined on a case by case basis.

Hard conversations need to happen constantly in uncertain or bad times, never wait until the last moment to have them all at once. If you can see it coming, start talking.

Other interesting points that where made are about relationships in general, the feedback loops on our day to day lives need to include positives as well, feedback should not be negative remarks exclusively.

There are some famous techniques like the “Feedback sandwich” that tells you to include positive remarks before and after a negative one. Doug Stone says that as long as it’s earnest feedback, give it, the negative and the positive. Preferably start with the negative so that the conversation ends with the positive one.

If you like the article, want to give me feedback, talk about it or make fun of my gramatical or spelling mistakes (English is not my native language), don’t hesitate to reach out, here is my linkedIn :)

Written by

FROGO | Entrepreneurship, Marketing & Logistics. @ajchocron

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