I am honored to host this guest post by Marcia Reynolds, author of The Discomfort Zone: Mastering the Art of Turning Difficult Conversations into Breakthroughs,
As a leader, there will be times when the people you lead or coach get stuck when dealing with difficult decisions and relationship issues. They know they have to resolve their issue but can’t see new solutions. You want to help, but these conversations can stir up emotions, and you might get flustered when a person gets angry, tears up, or feels embarrassed.
Yet it is in these moments of discomfort that a breakthrough is most likely to occur.
According to Neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga, we get stuck in our automatic thought-processing and resist questioning our beliefs and behaviors. Our brains protective instinct keeps us from in-depth self-exploration. We only view ourselves and our word differently when we see or hear something that surprises our brains.
People need you to help them think through difficult issues even though they don’t feel comfortable in the process.
In a conversation, when you share what you hear and sense, and then ask a question that causes a person to reflect on his thoughts and behavior, you might break through his protective wall. In that moment, the person’s brain is forced to reorder data in his long-term memory. The mental reshuffling feels awkward. Then he might feel a pinch of anger, embarrassment, or sadness when he sees the blind spot that was holding him back.
Creating a moment of discomfort is essential to generating the “aha” breakthrough in thinking.
How well you handle yourself in these moments will impact how effective you can be in the conversation. Leaders who know how to have a discomfort zone conversation are the best at developing the minds of their employees. Here are 5 ways to use discomfort to help the people you coach breakthrough to new solutions.
1. Let go of knowing. You have to enter these conversations trusting that the person will discover a solution if you ask the right questions. If you already know how you want a person to think and act, they will feel you are pushing them instead of being interested in their point of view. You must go into a conversation curious about what they think and how the conversation will unfold. And you must genuinely care about the person’s success or happiness when the issue is resolved. If they sense you are there only because you want this problem to go away, they will experience you as a threat instead of an ally.
2. Listen to their story before you question their assumptions and beliefs. The purpose for listening goes beyond ensuring that people feel heard. You need to pull out the assumptions and beliefs that are framing their story. When you rephrase their assumptions and ask if they are absolutely true, you allow people to question their thinking. They can then sort out truth from speculation on their own, instantly giving them a view of what else might be true.
3. Reflect and explore instead of offer answers. As they tell their stories, ask about the desires, disappointments, and fears you sense they are feeling. You can be wrong about what you sense. If you are wrong, they will tell you what is right, which then takes the conversation to a deeper level. What do you think they are holding onto that is keeping them from moving forward? What do you sense they want but are angry or fearful about not getting, such as respect, predictability, or appreciation? When you help them see how their emotions play into their thinking and actions, their blind spots come to light.
4. Have them articulate their “aha” insight before they commit to what is next. Many people will stop, say “wow, I had not thought about it that way before” or “Yes, I see what you mean” and then plunge forward with a solution. Ask them to articulate what they now see so the insight becomes clear and permanent. Otherwise, they could forget what they learned.
5. Be patient and comfortable with discomfort. When the conversation begins to feel risky, messy, or emotional, breathe and recall that your purpose for the conversation is to help them think for themselves. If you slip and declare what is wrong with their thinking, their brains will shut No one likes being made to feel wrong or stupid. Remember you are watching the brain of the person in front sort through and work things out. Stay alert to the magic that is occurring so you don’t get entangled in their reactions.
Effective leaders help others think more broadly for themselves. They do this by reflecting what they hear and sense, and then asking powerful questions that disrupt and expand how people think. It is in these moments of discomfort that solutions appear and radical growth occurs. Developing people includes developing their minds.
Dr. Marcia Reynolds is author of the new bestseller The Discomfort Zone: Mastering the Art of Turning Difficult Conversations into Breakthroughs. For 30 years she has worked with global corporations in executive coaching and leadership training. She is a past global president of the International Coach Federation, Training Director for the Healthcare Coaching Institute and president-elect of the Association of Coach Training Organizations and is the author of three books and a regular blogger for Psychology Today. Visit her website to see the steps for having a discomfort zone conversation laid out in a model online with other resources to help you listen more deeply. You can also assess your ability to hold a Discomfort Zone conversation on the site, and you will be given suggestions for improving your likelihood for success based on your results. You can follow her on Twitter and find her on Facebook.