When I’m visiting Singapore, one of my favorite dishes to eat is called laksa. Laksa is a spicy curry dish. It’s so good, but it burns! You’ll be sweating as you eat it. You will need to pause for water, and as you keep eating, it will keep burning. But oh, it is so good. When you’re finished, it will have been well worth the burn!
When it comes to having difficult discussions with your team, you will find that the experience isn’t much different from eating a bowl of laksa. Even thinking about bringing up the topic might cause you to start sweating. But if you don’t initiate the discussion, there will be a cost, and you might even end up giving your competition the advantage!
Working for Your Competition
Let’s say you and your colleague are working on strategy together. You see challenges with the direction that your colleague has taken. But you are too scared to share your insights at the moment. You are worried that they might not like your feedback, and that it might even hurt the relationship. So you wait weeks before finally building up the courage to have the discussion. Or, you might never gain the courage.
You may only realize much later that your choice to avoid the spicy conversation had consequences. Your insights could have made a difference, but since there was no opportunity to resolve or even voice disagreement, your team was stuck. Meanwhile, your competition was advancing. This is what I mean when I say that you’re working for your competition. You should have been coming to the table in a regular weekly meeting cadence and hashing out those issues so that you could move forward.
Better Relationships, Better Teamwork
Why do we avoid spicy conversations? The answer is simple: fear. As you imagine the discussion, your heart starts pounding. You begin to visualize all the worst-case scenarios. You imagine how much your team members will hate you if you express disagreement or give difficult feedback. You may even believe you’ll lose this person as a friend. But this is not reality. It’s in your head! That’s on you.
The irony of avoiding spicy conversations to protect a relationship is that usually, after this type of discussion, the relationship gets better. You don’t have to be rude when you share, and you should not berate the person. You can choose to be kind and empathetic during the spicy discussion by letting the person know, “I’m sharing this with you because I care.” Sprinkle in curiosity. Ask them what they think, and let them know that if the feedback you’re giving is incorrect, they can toss it out the window. Usually, this person will appreciate your candor if it is delivered with kindness.
All of us simply need practice to get better at having spicy conversations. When you get into the habit of having these types of conversations regularly, it becomes a lot easier. These conversations done right will build trust between you and your team members. You will develop better teamwork, accelerate everyone’s progress, and win together as a team.
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