A Conversation worth Having

Important questions

How is it possible that higher ed administrators spend so much of their time in meetings, and yet communication is still problem? Much confusion is created not by what is said but by what remains unsaid.

With open door policies and shared governance, everyone is welcome to speak up but many are afraid to ask the questions that weigh heavily on their minds.

Here is a fictional example. I am saying fictional because it isn’t taken directly from one person’s coaching call (confidentiality is critical) but it is the type of thing I hear at least once a week.

“Hi Audrey! In today’s session I’d like to create a strategy on how to communicate better with my President.”

“Sure, tell me more. What’s bothering you?”

“I can’t figure out what he is thinking. He is quick to point out problems after they have occurred but I need more direction from him to know what to do to make him happy. He is so different from his predecessor... It’s a big adjustment for all of us. He is not easy to read.”

“Have you asked him what direction he wants you to take?”

“Hmm, no.”

“What’s stopping you?”

“I don’t want him to think that I don’t know how to do my job.”

“Do you know how to do your job?”

“Yes, of course, I have had this position for 5 years. I guess… that’s not the problem.”

“What do you need him to tell you?”

“I need to know what his expectations are, how he wants us to prioritize, how he wants us to share information with him, when he wants to be involved in something or not, that sort of things.”

“It sounds to me that no matter how competent you are at your job, unless you are a mind reader, the only way to get these answers is to ask him. Would you consider asking him next time you meet one-on-one?”

“Yes, you helped me see that I won’t look incompetent.”

“Excellent. Try to put yourself in his shoes for a moment. How do you think you will look?”

“Well, given that he is new and he wants to do a good job, I suspect he will appreciate my desire to meet his expectations and be on the same page as he is.”

“Absolutely. What else does he have to gain by having an honest conversation with you about his workstyle and preferences?”

“He is more likely to be pleased with my work if I know what he wants. That will spare us both potential misunderstandings and tension. I think we will make a good team if our professional relationship is based on honesty and open communication.”

“Yes. So what are you going to do?”

“I have a meeting with him tomorrow. I’ll ask him to tell me what is important to him and what he expects from me.”

“Are you still afraid you might look bad?”

“No, I’ll look like I care and I am willing to go the extra mile to make him successful.”

False beliefs

Do you see what happened in this example? The client thought she had a problem and needed me to teach her some elaborated secret strategies to extract knowledge from her boss’ mind without asking him directly.

Before jumping to conclusion and thinking of ways to make an uncooperative person cooperate, I needed to know if her belief “I can’t ask him directly” was a false belief. And it was false. The perceived problem was an illusion.

There was no neuro linguist programming technique needed or elaborate strategy required. I didn’t teach her anything. All I did was questioning her reasoning and she saw her own gap in logic.

Could some of your beliefs be false too?

Are you afraid to have conversations that you really need to have? You probably do.

Ask yourself:

  • What would you like to know?
  • What’s stopping you from asking?
  • Is your fear based on a false belief?
  • How can you ask in a safe way and get the information you need?

In higher ed administration, people are smart, highly educated, and expected to know their job. Ironically, trying to look like they know everything gets in the way of them doing their job better! And it also causes tremendous uncertainty, misunderstandings, and tension.

Why it’s better to ask

Next time you are afraid to ask someone for information, ask yourself if having the conversation will benefit them too. I bet it will. Like in the example above, if you need more clarity from your supervisor, ask!

If you are a supervisor and you have issues with some of your employees, before you judge their behavior, consider the possibility that what is obvious to you is not obvious to them. If you think “they should know better”, please realize that’s not the point.

Your goal isn’t to blame but to find solutions. The fact is, if your employees have broken unspoken rules, they need to be made aware. Give them a chance to hear what is expected of them and help them find ways to meet your expectations.

What remains unsaid will create problems sooner or later. Don’t make assumptions. Ask.

If your relationships with your supervisor(s) or your subordinate(s) are delicate and you need to re-evaluate beliefs or craft strategies to improve communication and collaboration, consider working with a coach.

Dealing with difficult people requires you to disrupt habitual reactions and intentionally choose new ways of addressing the situation. It’s not easy to do alone but it is relatively simple and very empowering to do with a guidance of a coach. If you would like to speak with me about your goals and how we can work together, simply click here to schedule a complimentary call. I promise, it will be a conversation worth having too.

Relief is on the way!

About the author: Since 2010 Dr. Audrey Reille has empowered thousands of professionals through one-on-one coaching, group coaching, speaking engagements, online courses, and interviews on international telesummits.  Audrey is the go-to coach for leaders in higher education administration. She empowers them to thrive by reducing stress, optimizing strategies, improving professional relationships, and developing a strong and empowered mindset.