What’s the conversation you need to have

by Professor David Clutterbuck

We all have conversations we avoid. We can wall these conversations off to the extent that we are not even aware we are avoiding them.

In helping someone get to know themselves, a coach or mentor can encourage them to acknowledge and explore these conversations. Some of the most common include:

  • Conversations with yourself – being honest with yourself can be the toughest conversation of all!
  • Conversations with people close to you – spouse or partner, children, living parents
  • Conversations you didn’t get to have or complete with people, who are now out of reach (through death or other loss of contact)
  • Conversations with team colleagues
  • Conversations with your boss
  • Conversations with colleagues or associates outside your team
  • Conversations with neighbours
  • And so on…

Useful questions to help explore these conversations include:

  • What is it you would like to change in how they see things?
  • Why is that important to you?
  • How important do you think it is (or might be) to them?
  • What would be the benefit of having this conversation, to you, to the other party, to others?
  • What precisely would you like to say to them?
  • What would you like them to say to you?
  • What has stopped you having this conversation?
  • What would allow you to have this conversation now?
  • What would give you the courage to have this conversation?
  • How would you feel afterwards?
  • What further help do you need from me or others to make this conversation happen?

Many, if not most of the stressors and anxieties that cause us to underperform relate to conversations we are avoiding. Facing up to them and being curious about our motivations and how things could be different emancipates us. For this reason, the conversations we have about conversations we avoid can be among the most valuable a coach or mentor can initiate.