The softer side of tough talking

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When I sat down recently with Mary Byers to discuss initiating and managing difficult conversations, we started our conversation by talking about the importance of asking questions.

View a short interview with Mary Byers on Tough Talking: Initiating and Managing Difficult conversations.

Asking questions and listening may not be the first two skills that come to mind when thinking of strategies for managing difficult conversations. But as I reflected on my conversation with Mary I noted that the act of asking questions and listening mindfully are woven throughout our courses and seminars. For example, active listening is a core theme in our module on handling conflict. Asking questions is a critical element of our course Enhancing Leadership Skills. And mindful listening has come up time and time again in my interviews with expert leaders.

So why do so many people struggle with these skills? Why are they not more natural to us when we face tough conversations? Mary believes that some of this is due to our perceptions of what it means to be a leader. She notes that our society values someone with a quick answer, who speaks up confidently and positions him/herself as an expert. The challenge with this perception of a leader is that it’s opposite to what’s really required. Mary says, “Leaders today need to have enquiring minds. They don’t need to have all the answers; they just need to know how to get the answers. And questions are the key to getting answers.”

In the video interview, Mary shares some valuable tips for handling difficult conversations, but the one that is easiest to remember and implement is: ask first; listen second; speak third. If that`s all we changed about our conversations and business dealings, I believe it would have a profound effect for many of us. We would build relationships by demonstrating our interest in others. We would make better decisions by learning something we didn`t know.

Mary Byers has co-authored two successful books: Race for Relevance – 5 Radical Changes for Associations, and Road to Relevance – 5 Strategies for Competitive Associations. She presents a compelling and insightful message in her keynotes and workshops designed to help volunteer leaders and staff create a viable future for their associations.

Title: Tough Talking: Initiating and Managing Difficult Conversations
Featuring: Mary Byers, CAE
Length: 6:36 minutes
Check out more video interviews from the OREA Centre for Leadership Development.

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