For almost 20 years now I’ve been having seemingly impossible conversations on a regular basis.
As the owner of a Chicago-based business helping families with aging parents I’ve been the bearer of all sorts of challenging news:
- “You can’t keep a four-bedroom house’s worth of furniture and move it with you into a one bedroom assisted living apartment; and it’s not safe for you to stay in your home any longer.”
- “The physical possessions your parents left you are not actually an asset, but an expensive obstacle to selling the house they’re located in.”
- “Your family waited too long to make proactive decisions and now the services you need are going to be difficult to acquire and cost significantly more than if you would have planned ahead.”
As a small business owner and former executive I’ve initiated equally potentially confrontational discussions:
- “Your work is very good but I just can’t bring you with as a representative of our company unless you can dress appropriately. I need you to make sure your breasts fit in your shirt” (Yes, that happened)
- “Business is not doing well right now and unfortunately we have to lay off team members from your department.”
- “The market for our work is changing and right now the other guy is just doing a better job then we are.”
And then of course there are those occurrences in my personal life such as when I told my husband I wanted to get divorced or when after more than a decade I gave my notice and left a corporate job, with people I loved, to start my own business.
One of the common themes for me however with these seemingly impossible conversations, was no matter how difficult the topic, how bad the news or how it may have gone directly against what the other person wanted and felt, they never ended with animosity or hostility. In fact, people would often ask me how I “got away” with saying much of what I said.
Now part of that may be that physically I’m on the smaller side and though I’ve had years of experience as a power lifter and a boxer I just don’t come off as very physically imposing. (Little do they know)
But I think the real answer is that my approach has always been to be respectful; to be caring. My goal is always to help not hurt. To build up, not tear down.
And my thoughts have always been, who am I helping if I DON’T have these conversations? Nobody.
Think about how much better it would be if we all loved each other enough to sit down and have a respectful, caring conversation. How would it change our businesses, our personal relationships, our families…our world.
My message is straight forward…and simple though not always easy: You have to have the conversation. Keep it respectful. Keep it caring. Don’t worry about how, when what….just know why. And know what happens if you don’t.