Succeeding at Difficult Conversations

By Kristin Allaben, Executive Assistant & Strategic Communications Specialist

Having a difficult conversation is, well, difficult. It can be awkward and uncomfortable, two feelings that most humans hate experiencing and, therefore, try to avoid. But there are situations when the difficult conversation is necessary – whether that’s firing an underperforming employee, challenging a decision made or, for some people, just saying no.

I recently was faced with my own difficult conversation and, I have to be honest, it was a challenge for me. Though some people seem to be born with the gift of appropriately distancing themselves from a situation to come into the discussion with a calm, clear head, that’s not me. As a very passionate person, I know I need to work at staying calm, cool and collected, especially when emotions are running high.

Here’s the good news: anyone can learn to be calm, cool and collected. It’s about becoming more aware of your emotions, being tuned in to how you’re responding (not reacting) to those emotions and gathering as much information as you can to make a better decision.

This is how coaching has helped a passionate person like me.

Leveraging many of the techniques I learned through my own life and workplace coaching sessions, I was able to have an extremely productive difficult conversation.

Here’s why:

  • I asked questions. – Great managers and coaches ask questions. This gives them information to more effectively guide their employees/coachees to make better decisions. It also keeps everyone engaged and invested in the conversation. In my situation, I needed more information. Asking questions – and listening to the answers – was how I got that information.
  • I was firm. – I approached the conversation in a firm but professional manner. This was tricky, especially when the emotions tried to sneak their way into my voice, but pausing to take a breath helped keep my emotions in check and helped me stay focused on the purpose of the discussion.
  • I stayed calm. – Though angry, I refocused my energy into listening and having an intentional and productive conversation. It took self-awareness and self-management. If I were out of control, how could I expect a successful, thoughtful and solution-driven conversation?
  • I was empathetic. – I acknowledged the situation and empathized with how the other party was feeling. I did not, however, sympathize with them; I didn’t express my own feelings about their situation. This is an important distinction since sympathizing can quickly turn a productive conversation into a venting session.
  • I focused on a plan. – The conversation ended with clear next steps and a timeframe for when those items would happen. Both parties were also aware a follow up meeting will happen at the end of the agreed upon timeframe to ensure those items are implemented appropriately.

The next time you’re faced with a challenging situation, give yourself a moment to take a breath. Think about the outcome you want and what you need to do to get there. This moment of tuning in and reflecting will help you ground yourself to move forward in a much more productive manner.

Need coaching to help you learn how to succeed in difficult conversations? Contact Jay Forte for a complimentary 15-minute coaching conversation.

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Are You Ruled by Worry, Fear and Uncertainty?

By Jay Forte, Coach, Author, Educator

So many of us tuned in to the constant coverage of the recent hurricanes – the preparations before the storm hit, the storm in process and the storm’s aftermath. We were consumed by watching newsperson after newsperson stand in drenching rain and brace themselves in intimidating wind to give us play-by-play observations about the storm. We were held captive by fear, uncertainty and worry.

Being informed to make wise decisions is one thing; obsessing over a situation is another. The former is productive, the latter is unproductive. And in today’s 24/7 news coverage, there’s a very fine line between being informed and being obsessed.

I admit I fell victim to the uncertainty around Hurricane Irma since the storm displaced me from my home in South Florida. But then I realized: fear, uncertainty and worry does nothing to help the situation. It can cloud our thoughts, limit our choices and impede our decisions. We react instead of respond.

As a coach, I see this behavior on a regular basis. When you don’t use the information available to you wisely (you don’t notice and limit your access to sensationalizing and editorializing), you get caught in the emotions of the moment, which can result in decisions made out of fear. These types of decisions are less effective and sustainable compared to those made out of rational thought.

Coverage of the recent hurricanes is just the latest example of our news cycle that fills each moment of every day with situations that keep us in worry, fear and uncertainty. We continually watch tragedy, danger and conflict to a point that we forget there is kindness, opportunity and collaboration.

So how can you manage the 24/7 news cycle to stay informed, but not become obsessed?

Be more intentional about the information you gather from your world. Watching a storm moment by moment doesn’t make you wiser or more intentional in your responses. It just makes you crazy.

Instead, stop and notice what is going on and gather information. Use that information to consider your options. With a calm mind, choose the best option and act on it. This is how you move through life wisely and calmly, accommodating both successes and challenges, and using them both to make good decisions.

Important Questions from a Coach:

  1. What can you do to more intentionally manage what you listen to and watch?
  2. How will you guide your family/friends/colleagues to think more wisely and rationally when a breaking news topic takes over the 24/7 news cycle?
  3. What areas of your work and life need you to be calmer, saner and wiser to be more successful?

You are part of a loud, noisy and constantly-connected world. Be intentional about what you let in so you can thoughtfully respond instead of nervously react.

Consider reading Learn to See the Good

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Learn To See The Good

By Jay Forte, Coach, Author, Educator

Despite the challenges we may face – whether it’s at home, at work, with our family, at school – does it seem hard to believe that there’s more right in your world than wrong?

As a coach and speaker, I find that most of my clients and audiences are tuned in to what’s not working instead of what is working. Why is that when there is clearly so much more right than wrong?

First, our brains are programmed to watch for danger. Our fight or flight response is designed to help us survive. That part of the brain isn’t interested in loving life, doing great things, seeing the best in others – it is just there to help us be aware of anything that challenges our survival.

Try this: change your mindset. Though you may have been programmed to watch for the negative, learning to be more self-aware helps you start to notice your emotions and energy. You can’t control or change what you don’t notice.

During your day, start to ask yourself, “What am I feeling?” If the answer is a negative, unhappy or unproductive feeling, know that you have the ability to change your mindset just by noticing the negative. With this awareness, shift your mindset to being more open, optimistic and opportunity focused.

It takes practice but it can be done. You choose your emotions and energy level. You choose how you want to relate to that challenging boss, that upset customer or the long line at Starbucks. You don’t have to be upset. You could be calm, happy, content. Tap into these emotions by being more aware.

And second, we are surrounded by negative news. Terrorism, politics, conflicts, hacking, security, divorce, reality TV, wars. We are confronted with a 24-hour stream of negativity because, as the media outlets know, bad news sells.

Try this: control what you listen to. Remember, you are the owner of your life. It is your choice to tune out when you need a break. Switch it out for something that is empowering, engaging, supportive, entertaining and educational. Replace it by spending time doing what you love and enjoy. Limit time on social media, choose reputable and news-focused organizations to stay updated on your world, or listen to music or mind-engaging podcasts.

Just because the world talks loudly doesn’t mean you always have to listen. For a good essay about this, check out George Saunders’ The Braindead Megaphone.

You have to learn to see the good. Your world has made you cynical and part of your brain has made you defensive. The benefit is that life immediately changes when you first look for what’s working and what’s good, instead of what’s not working and what’s bad.

Important Questions from a Coach

  1. On a scale of 1-10, where 1 is very negative and 10 is very positive, where are you now? Where were you yesterday? Where are you on the important things in your life?
  2. What is one thing you could do today to change how you look at yourself and the world around you, to watch for the good, the successes and the opportunities?

We can’t always control the situations that life sends us, but we certainly can choose how we see them. Learn to see the good.

Consider reading Tune Out to Tune In

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Are You The Great Pretender?

By Jay Forte

Social media has made us constantly aware of what others have, are doing and are experiencing. We know about their trips, their adventures and their awards. We hear about what great things are happening to their friends, their kids and their grandkids. We hear about job promotions and successes.

But we rarely hear about or see the other side, the real life side – their challenges, failures and disappointments.

It can be tempting to compare your life to what you’re seeing from others, driving questions like: If their lives are so great, what am I doing wrong? What are they doing that I should be doing to be happier and more successful?

These questions rarely have the positive impact you’d assume – many people make big life changes based solely on their interpretation of what others do and find that after making these changes, things aren’t any better.

This is when people are often confronted by The Great Pretender. You think that by doing and being like others, you will have what they have and your life will be great. But it doesn’t turn out that way for two primary reasons:

  1. You are seeing only what others choose to share with you – the highlights. All lives have challenges and obstacles, so you’re only getting a partial view of their lives.
  2. Pretending distracts you away from what’s amazing in your life. When you pretend to be someone else, you step away from what makes you you. You are not others – don’t compare your life to theirs. Instead, focus on knowing, developing and living who you really are – that is the key to your greatest success, joy and happiness.

Being The Great Pretender is one of the greatest wastes of time. It distances you from all of what makes you your best self, and is frequently done just to impress others about something that doesn’t matter.

The way to be the best version of yourself is to be authentic and believe that you have the ability and responsibility to define what a great life is for you. Fight the urge to compare your life to the string of successes on Facebook and other social media channels. Know it is just a snapshot of someone else’s life. Appreciate the greatness and successes in others, then define what belongs in your great life.

Important Questions from a Coach

  1. In what areas of your life are you pretending, trying to be something or someone you are not?
  2. How would being more authentic connect you to your greater abilities, interests and values?
  3. How can you be better about noticing and applauding others for the great things in their lives but avoiding comparing yourself, your situation and your life to theirs?

Being authentic is the key to a happy and successful life. Decide who you will be and what you want in life. Leave the pretending to the storytellers.

Consider reading Embrace Your Face

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Create A Personal Report Card

By Jay Forte

So many people have good intentions to make a change in their lives. They think about it. They talk about it. They actually start to do something and then, for many, it falls apart. Why does this happen?

  1. They lack goal clarity. Basically, they aren’t really sure what they want to achieve. A clear goal is required to know which direction is forward, sideways and backward. Clarity is key.
  2. They lack an accountability partner. Sometimes, you need someone to lean on or to help you stay committed to your commitments and goals. This is why many people look to gym buddies at the start of a new workout plan. Whether it’s a workplace coach, a friend or a family member, consider sharing your goal and ask them to help keep you committed to your achievement plan.
  3. They don’t measure or keep track of goals and progress. How will you know what progress you are making if you use generic and non-measurable terms like “do better,” “improve,” “work harder” or provide no metrics or measurements at all? Measurement is critical to the achievement of all goals. It allows you to assess whether your progress is at, ahead or behind expectation.

Before you start to move forward on making any change in your life, think about creating a personal report card to keep you moving forward on your goals.

A personal report card could include a spreadsheet of goals and your current progress or performance on each, tracked on a daily, weekly or monthly schedule. For example, you may have a goal of meditating and taking time to do some self-discovery work every day, so your goal is 30 days for the month. Seeing that you completed this 12 times in the month creates a review point for you. If you only did it 12 times, how important was the goal to you? If it was important, what stopped you from meeting your goal of 30 days?

Regularly comparing your progress against a goal provides information about what’s working and what’s not, giving you information from which to make wiser and better next decisions – to do more of what’s working and to improve on what’s not working.

When it comes to goals, measurements matter.

Important Questions from a Coach

  1. How can you create clear and measurable goals?
  2. What method will work best for you to measure your progress on your goals?
  3. What is one thing you can do right now to make progress on your goals?

As poet Mary Oliver asks in her poem, The Summer Day, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” How can creating clear and measurable goals help you have that “wild and precious life?”

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Embrace Your Face

By Jay Forte

You were born with your amazing face. It matches your unique combination of talents, strengths, passions and interests. It goes along with your values, dreams and aspirations. Don’t try to hide it, trade it for another or find fault with it. Embrace it; it is you and represents the real you.

Embrace your face means you accept yourself; you see yourself as valuable, important and just right as you are. No fixing needed. No validation from others required.

The biggest thing I have learned in my years on the planet is those who have happy, successful and amazing lives fully understand and accept who they are. They have learned not to compare themselves to others because they know we are all different and unique on purpose. They don’t see what they have or don’t have as good or bad – they just see that everyone has unique abilities, talents and gifts. No one person is any more amazing or gifted than another, they are just a different type of amazing and have different gifts. They know life isn’t about being perfect, or being like someone else; it is about being real, honest, authentic and committed to knowing and living who you really are – to be the best version of you.

For many years, I lived my life according to the way those around me thought I should. I tried to “change my face” to act more like others, do what they do, believe what they believe, live how they live. It was too easy to see others and want what they have, be like them or live their way. But it quickly became evident that when I did that, I felt further and further from who I was, like I was living someone else’s life.

Don’t let this happen to you

The more you don’t embrace your face, the more you lose or hide the great things in you. You find yourself in places that don’t fit you, engage you or inspire you. You play small. You miss out.

I believe we are each here to do great things, things only we can do. And we can’t do them if we don’t embrace who we are, accept ourselves and develop the gifts, talents and abilities that are inherently ours. Not only do you miss out by not being really you, we all miss out on the great things you were born to do.

Important Questions from a Coach

  1. How do you embrace your face – and all of you that comes with it?
  2. What is one thing you could do today to be more authentic, honest and true to yourself?
  3. What will help you develop the courage to live who you really are and not be so worried about what others think and feel about you?

You are you and you were born just right. Stand proud. Discover, develop and live your true self. Embrace your face.


Consider reading Tune Out to Tune In

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Tune Out To Tune In

By Jay Forte

It is rare to see someone not connected to a device. We’re constantly gathering information from sources that fill our brains with things others think are important. But there is something this constant chatter can never give you – information about you.

It is obviously necessary to stay connected in today’s world. However, before you can truly understand the impact of the news and information you hear, you need to know you – the you that has to make choices about what’s right for you and what’s not for you in both work and life. This requires tuning out to tune in.

Every one of us has unique and amazing talents and strengths that are distinctively ours. There are no two people on the planet who share identical profiles and, as a result, there isn’t anything the outside world will tell you that will help you identify your talents and strengths to help you find your fit. No one will hand you an owners’ manual or a life guide book; you have to write this yourself.

We can find our particular place and way of living, one that aligns to what we do and love best, because we are all different and unique. It is in this alignment that we can choose how we show up in every moment of our lives, regardless of whether that moment is big or small.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, a mindfulness expert and author, shares that if you are able to be more aware in this moment, then you are able to use the information from this moment to make your next moment better.

Basically, if you can be self-aware in this moment – to you know your talents, strengths, passions and interests – you can use that information to make a better and wiser decision about you in the next moment. True, you need to know what is going on in your world too, but only after you discover who you are to use what you know of you to make wise decisions in your world. Don’t let the world tell you who to be – know who you are and bring the real you to find your fit in all areas of work and life.

To access this critical information, tune out the noisy, opinionated and directing world and tune in to you – the wise, talented and amazingly unique person you are. Doing so will give you access to the information needed to make wiser and better choices.

Important Questions from a Coach

  1. What do you notice about yourself when you really pay attention to who you are and what makes you, you?
  2. How can learning about the real you help improve your decisions in work and life?
  3. What can you do today to disconnect from the world to better understand yourself?

You are great and awesome just as you are. Don’t be a stranger to yourself – take the time to discover, develop and live the true you. You are here to do great things.


Consider reading Create a Personal Report Card

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