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Courageous Conversations

At Principle One, we recognise that building the skills you need for a consultancy career is about far more than learning your trade, whether it’s centred around business analysis, delivery management or systems engineering. As a result, we put just as much emphasis on the often overlooked “softer skills” and ensuring that our consultants have the tools they need to be as effective as possible when working for our clients.

Consulting careers are filled with situations that require us to undertake challenging conversations with customers, partners, suppliers and colleagues. While not always the bringers of bad news as such, as consultants we are often required to communicate difficult messages and build consensus from disparate opinions.

Adele Donovan and Laura Russell have worked extensively across some challenging consulting engagements across their careers and are well versed in working through courageous conversations to get to the right outcome for all involved, so who better to develop and run a new addition to our library of in-house training courses.

After delivering a course this week Adele said “It doesn't matter what stage you are at in your career, there are inevitably emotive or sensitive issues that arise. When discussing these, human threat responses (fight, flight, freeze or fawn) can kick in. We try to act against these instincts, but this can still leak out in the way that we communicate. There’s a high risk that we don’t get the best outcome in these situations and that they end with you and others feeling bad without achieving our end goals.

Laura and I wanted to develop a course that provides colleagues with a toolkit to think back on when faced with a courageous conversation. The aim was to:

  • Help colleagues identify the types of responses they or others may have;

  • Identify how they currently approach these types of conversations; and

  • Provide a model to approach these conversations in future to get best outcome for themselves, individuals involved and for the business.

I really enjoyed delivering the course, the open discussion and role play gave some interesting insights into colleagues' threat responses and personality types.”

Before the course, Laura and Adele asked the group to take a personality test and to see how much they thought it reflected how they approached difficult or confrontational situations. The results were surprisingly diverse and gave the group a chance to share their own perspectives and explore how they reacted differently to the same situation and how their personality type can play a crucial role in how they process and respond to feedback, criticism or pushback.

The session also included role playing, in which the attendees gave some real-life examples of courageous conversations that they had been part of, and their colleagues played the part of the ‘challenging’ individual on the receiving end. By discussing the most challenging aspects of these experiences, the group were able to consider the impact of their words, tones, and non-verbal cues on others, and how they might plan for and approach these types of conversations in the future.

Alex May has been working as a Delivery Manager in our ACE customer for the last nine months, tasked with managing rainbow teams of suppliers on behalf of a range of Law Enforcement customers, handling ambiguous requirements and working to challenging deadlines. “From my point of view, it was good to hear the experiences of Laura and Adele who always seem to have everything under control, no matter how challenging the situation. Just knowing that even they sometimes get it wrong or need to ask for help makes them much more approachable when I need to reach out myself. It’s been really important to have that level of trust with your colleagues and that’s a core value I’ve found to be part of Principle One’s culture since I joined last year.”

One aspect that stood out from the training was the importance of how you listen as well as how to prepare to get your message across. Ensuring that you pick up on cues around how your message has been received, understand any objections and then tailor your own response further gave pause for thought, in particular when these cues may not be as obvious when meeting in the online world.

After our trial run Laura reflected “It was clear from the discussions and the role plays that some people are more sensitive and emotional while others are more logical and analytical when it comes to challenge. We discussed the coping strategies that we can all gravitate towards when we are part of a courageous conversation, and what to avoid. Even within a small group it was helpful to develop our self-awareness of knowing how and when to apply these strategies.”


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