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A hint of gravitas and a touch of poise

01/07/2020

What if difficult conversations were really not that hard? Felicity Lerouge presented her thoughts on how to navigate tough talks to The Gender Network, revealing it doesn’t have to be difficult, if you communicate in a manner that is respectful.

It’s not what you say, it’s the way that you say it, according to Felicity Lerouge, founder of Phenomenal People and speaker at The UK Gender Network’s Zoom event on 25 June 2020. The statement is especially relevant when it comes to having Difficult Conversations, the theme of Ms Lerouge’s talk.

These conversations are the ones we do not have because they are too challenging, we are too busy, or they are not our problem. It is hardly a surprise that when we do get around to them, these communications are emotionally charged with a distinct likelihood that the message is never heard.

What to do? There is a simple answer and that is to work out what you are like and then try to discern the communication style of your adversary/friend/work colleague/boss/family member into their associated quadrant – there are four to choose from – and tailor your conversation or behaviour. Knowing what your ‘opponent’ is like helps you to forgive and overlook behaviour that clashes with yours. Knowing what you are like means you enter the proceedings without baggage or fear of failure.

For Ms Lerouge, the question then becomes, ‘Am I sure that the person has really understood what I said and the intention behind it?’

But step back, because this is all sounding too easy. The long and more complicated part of all of this is what Ms Lerouge refers to as The Belief Cycle, whereby we default to our thoughts and feelings before entering these difficult conversations. If you are energised, anxious or just plain ready to have a fight, your message is unlikely to be received.

“If we go into a situation with those thoughts and feelings, our actions will be in line with that; we are defensive or looking for reasons to take offence, or opportunities to put our point across and stand up for ourselves,” said Ms Lerouge. “The end result is: we might communicate what we need to say, but not in a collaborative way, in an anxious and frustrating interchange after which we may be thinking we’re glad we got out alive, rather than that’s improved the relationship. The more we focus on that belief and those feelings, the more real it becomes to us and the whole thing cycles round and round.

“We are all very familiar with this and it happens very often,” she said. “Because we have such an embedded belief that it is going to be difficult, we are wrong-footed before we start. How empowering would it be to know that you could go into challenging conversations and deal with them effectively and with gravitas and poise.”

The gang of four

Blending the work of Carl Gustav Jung and a behavior assessment tool based on the Disc theory of William Moulton Marston and developed by Walter Vernon Clarke, Ms Lerouge outlines the leading components of character for you to identify the parties.

While others have used colours, Jung chose animals to represent types, settling on the leopard, peacock, owl and dolphin. Whichever representation you adopt, the stress of the communication is instantly dissipated: “When we understand someone’s communication style is just their style, they’re not setting out to ruin your day or be unreasonable, and unconscious pattern that is not meant to be offensive to you,” said Ms Lerouge.

A very brief take on the four types starts with those (leopards) who very direct, succinct, decisive, forceful and ambitious and driven by tasks and results, but poor listeners, impatient, unlikely to take advice and likely to argue.

Then we have the peacocks, which Ms Lerouge describes as “very easy to recognise, showy, flamboyant and happy being centre stage, engaging and motivating, persuasive, compelling story tellers and great at sharing a vision. They are direct, so will take action.” The downside: peacocks are very caught up in their stories and do not always hear details; they can be easily distracted and go off on tangents; they can exaggerate and can be dramatic.

The team players (dolphins) enjoy being part of a project, listen well, are collaborative, love to build trust and love to put themselves in other people’s shoes. They avoid conflict and do not always speak up. “If they see someone in a challenge, they are likely to take it on as well as other people’s workload,” said Ms Lerouge. “They can take on too much. They avoid difficult conversation like the plague.”

Owls are indirect but precise as well as very organised and good observers with a tendency to look at the broader picture rather than getting caught up in the enthusiasm. “They tend to be abrupt and private, which can come across as cold,” she said. “Because they are not people focused, connecting with you may take longer, while they consider if it’s worth their while.”

What are our triggers?

Taking this all into account, it is relatively easy to see that misunderstandings and difficult conversations between different characters can happen without any malice or previous history of a bad conversation. “You can touch a graze with a feather, and it will still make someone jump through the roof,” said Ms Lerouge.

The triggers that Ms Lerouge settles on are: violation of values; stress; and unconscious bias.

Values can be personal, particularly when it comes to determining what is rude or unfair. Stress is also unique to circumstance, often arising from not attending to your own wellbeing.

“If you are stressed, talk about it and apologise in advance,” said Ms Lerouge. “If you have negative history with someone and feel strongly about it, you tend to dig your heels in. Effectively defending ourselves may mean stacking up information to support our position because it makes us feel safer. Address those perceptions to clear the air and ask how we can move forward. Otherwise, it’s like having a mosquito in the room constantly buzzing around and, at some point, anticipating it is going to come and sting you.”

And while unconscious bias can be frustrating, it is often the result of ignorance rather than malice. The example that Ms Lerouge gives is of a gay couple with a dog meeting someone with the same type of dog. Without realising the couple are gay, the someone said their own dog was a bit of a poof. The considerate and understanding response of the couple, who let the comment pass without reaction, fits into Ms Lerouge’s “learning to be gracious”.

Your takeaway: communicate in a manner that is respectful.