Virginia Bianco-Mathis
University professor, author

Virginia Bianco-Mathis

Business department chair of management programs at Marymount University and author of two books on executive coaching.

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Flip the switch

Q: Are successful people blunt by nature? In recent weeks, retired NFL star John Riggins has been scathingly critical of his former team, the Washington Redskins. Is his take-no-prisoners rhetoric typical for achievers? Do the tactful accomplish more?

No, successful people are not blunt by nature. Blunt people are those who never learned dialogue. So, more to the point, successful people do tend to talk straight, name the elephant in the room, put their cards on the table, and "discuss the undiscussable." They do this because they have learned the power of dialogue -- creating conversations that get behind their own reasoning and the reasoning of others, establishing a common pool of knowledge, de-escalating emotions, and motivating through higher levels of understanding.

More often it is not what is said, but how it is said. A successful man does not criticize, humiliate, or belittle. He has learned dialogue skill sets that allow him to get beyond ego and search for the best solution, idea, or improvement. So, instead of saying, "That team is being managed in a stupid manner," he may say, "It seems to me that the management strategy of that team is not leading to the desired results. Given that the present results are not acceptable, I'd like to find out what the intentions are of the present approach and then lead the discussion to the pros and cons of alternative strategies."

A successful woman does not criticize her subordinate by saying, "How could you possibly make that decision? It has got to be the worse decision I've ever heard." Rather, she might say, "I'm confused over the decision you made. It is not what I would have decided or expected and I'm concerned because of the havoc it is causing with the client. Why don't you explain to me how you came about making that decision and then we can discuss where we might go from here."

Both of these examples deal with the issue in a straight way -- there is no fluff. Yet, they speak with curiosity, mutual problem-solving, openness, and clarity around outputs and needs. Some believe that a person must be blunt or even rude to tell the truth. In reality, the truth is merely a matter of perception and work needs to be done to get beyond everyone's preferred way of thinking and move toward mutual understanding -- not necessarily agreement, but understanding.

Successful people realize that the purpose of conversation needs to be the intended result -- not merely an emotional release, game of wits, political ploy, or display of power (unless, of course, your intention is to shut the other person down, damage the relationship, and wreak havoc).

Unfortunately, dialogue is not practiced on a regular basis because it is rarely taught by parents or teachers. Learning good dialogue is like learning a foreign language -- you continually flip the switch in your brain from what you would more naturally say to a "better way."

Frequent practice builds new connections in your brain so the "better way" becomes more natural. Successful people flip the switch.

By Virginia Bianco-Mathis  |  November 16, 2009; 10:28 AM ET  | Category:  tactless or truth-tellers Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Wow - good stuff to think on and practice. Thank you. When one places "principles above personalities" in problem solving, you detach from the emotional aspects and work on the problem itself.

Posted by: itsagreatday1 | November 18, 2009 8:07 AM
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