Have you ever wanted to speak up at work but weren’t sure how? Perhaps you were worried that you would be reprimanded or make the situation even worse. We have all been there. Many of us will have lost opportunities because of that avoidance of the awkward. Personally, my inability to speak in uncomfortable situations resulted in two events I have always regretted: first the ending of a close friendship, and second, having to deal with a bully-boss for too long. It is now my mission to help leaders safely challenge the norm, so that my daughter (currently 13) doesn’t have to enter the same type of workplace as I did – one ruled by fear and control. Considering its centuries old business model, this is not an easy task. I have found two different strategies. They are very different, but equally effective.
The first is my Courageous Conversation course.
Here I try to encourage people to see a difficult, but necessary conversation as an opportunity - a rare moment to change an old mindset and create new habits.
The second is perhaps unusual for a white, middle aged, middle class mum: I write and perform rap songs.
No, that is not a typo – I do mean actual rhyming rap tunes. The music genre offers me a unique way to express myself without needing to conform to social etiquettes. If you are doubting me, ask yourself: have you ever met an insecure rapper?
First, the course:
a challenging conversation (or the anticipation of it) often lowers our boundaries and helps people think differently. We are more willing to experiment with new ways of thinking and explore different tactics that could help us get through an uncomfortable encounter. In the course I seize this opportunity, recognising it as a rare moment to change an old mindset and create new habits One of the techniques that I share in my course is a unique four-step DARE (Diagnose, Acknowledge, Research and Execute) strategy, which blends user-friendly techniques including behavioural and diagnostic models and neuro-scientific studies. Very simply, it goes like this:
Step 1 – Diagnose the need: the first step to having a courageous conversation is to understand what needs to move forward and how to address the barriers.
Step 2 – Acknowledge: by layering several personality models, we can see common habits within a work environment. We focus on the best way to respond.
Step 3 – Research and Prepare: with a focus on objectives, this step allows the participant to be prepared for potential reactions and outcomes.
Step 4 – Execute: using role play or/and simulated scenarios, we test different catalysts to begin a courageous conversation.
But what if that doesn’t work straightaway?
Sometimes we need more than just a plan, we also need a dose of courage to tackle this difficult conversation or we will continue to sit idly and discuss the weather. How can you get that dose exactly when needed? This is where the rap comes in. It’s unconventional, but it works for me. It may work for you, or you may find a different creative outlet has a similar effect. My interest in the genre has developed to such an extent that I also now make videos and have a respectable following on You Tube (have a look at my latest one here). Rap allows me to release my fears, anger and worries authentically. When I read it or recite it back to myself, I sound confident and cool, even if I do not feel it underneath. Please note that I do not walk around rapping to my business clients (unless they’ve asked), I use and develop this skill for my own confidence and charisma.
I now study with Rappers in the UK. As I started writing and delivering my own lyrics, without initially making the connection between this new hobby and my career, my leadership style began to transform, client numbers grew, and business became more rewarding. The best part is that it didn’t end with business, my self-confidence grew exponentially and most importantly, it helped me connect with my daughter by offering advice that she could hear (and without prompting the customary eye roll.)
I believe that we need to keep thinking of new accessible ways to improve our confidence at work, keep challenging the norm and find new ways to change the landscape so that our children, no matter what their gender, have an equal chance at success.
Janet is our resident expert on challenging conversations. If you would like to learn more about her Courageous Conversations workshop, please get in touch.