Recently a vice president of human resources shared with me that he had been approached by another senior executive who was having trouble with a particular employee. When he asked her what the problem was, the other executive informed him that her employee was just not doing the work that was required. In response to her query he asked her, “Are you using the magic words?” Somewhat puzzled she answered, “I guess not because nothing has changed.” Then she asked, “If you don’t mind sharing, what are the magic words?”
When I conducted research for my book, Overcoming Fake Talk, I was interested to discover why so many people were afraid to talk about certain topics -- what I call undiscussables. Undiscussables include anything that we think and feel but choose not to share. In short, undiscussables are something we keep to ourselves.
With recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore, Maryland, among other places around the country, and with the election of Donald Trump, people’s positions and opinions have become more and more polarized. Civil discourse and meaningful dialogue have been replaced by rancor, accusation, disrespectful language, and wild speculation unbefitting a civil and democratic society.
I really believe that what begins well ends well. It is important to begin a conversation in such a way that allows the other person to hear and think about your message.
Recently, I sat and observed a senior leader begin his conversation with two directors by stating, “As you are probably already thinking….” One director looked at the other and then at their leader and said courageously,
Recently in my community, a respected professional took his life. His wife and children were heart-broken at the passing of their father. This event caused me to ask myself, “What voices am I listening to?”
Chris Argyris and his colleague Donald Schon introduced the notion that all of us have an internal voice that is constantly editorializing, analyzing, criticizing, and judging what others say and do. These mental exercises lead us to what they called our “undiscussables”, things we think and feel but don’t share.
Late last year I had the opportunity to work with a wonderful writer on an article dealing with how to engage with people who are shy. During the editing process, much of the original information was omitted due to space constraints, so I thought the subject merited some additional attention.
While I was in college, I worked during the summers as a whitewater guide running the rapids in Grand Canyon, Arizona. One of the first things that you learn as a guide is to follow the current of the river downstream.
Many years ago, I was assigned a business coach as part of my professional development plan. At first I didn’t really think that I needed a coach to help me grow and develop in my career aspirations. Then one day when things were not going particularly well, she asked me, “If you could paint a picture for me of how you are feeling at this moment, how would it look?”
When I ask folks why they refuse to talk about what matters most, the most frequently offered response is, “I don’t know how to do it.” Whatever your response may be, the consequences are always the same, poor results. Such thinking usually results in what I call counterfeit conversation or “fake talk.”