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Why Collaborative Moderators Embrace Uncomfortable Conversations

Tuesday, October 31, 2017 - 12:45
Uncomfortable Conversations in Meetings

“Make yourself do unpleasant things, so as to gain the upper hand of your soul.”
– W.E.B. Du Bois, Activist, Educator, Journalist

Researchers project nearly 2 billion people – close to half the global workforce – will be mobile by 2020. So, in coming years, more and more business meetings will be conducted from an increasingly diverse set of workplaces – cars, trains, hotels, cafes, home offices, etc. – via smartphone, tablet and/or laptop computer. And as these billions of workers take their progressively more powerful devices with them to remote locations for virtual meetings, they surely will take their emotions with them.

In fact, studies indicate many of their emotions could be negative, as business people deal with today’s culture of “constant communication” and the stresses of digital business transformation. Discord among teammates, discontent in the wake of business decisions and disappointment with policy changes or new directions are among the “emotionally charged conversations” that may increase along with the numbers of remote workers.

To prepare themselves to moderate these issues during virtual sessions, collaborative leaders should start by coping with their own discomfort with certain types of discussions.

Confronting Their Own Discomfort Makes Meeting Moderators Better Collaborative Leaders

“The secret to reaching the next level is discomfort.”
– Dan Rockwell, LeadershipFreak blog

“Discomfort is where improvement begins.” Confronting your own challenges, he espouses, enables a leader to model successful behaviors for colleagues. So, coping with your own aversion for uncomfortable conversations as a moderator helps meeting participants learn to handle their own.

Communications consultant John Stoker, author of the Switch and Shift blog, seconds Rockwell’s thinking: “Taking time to recognize what is not working [for you] and deliberately making changes will help individuals and groups to increase their effectiveness.”

How Collaborative Moderators Manage 3 Types of Discomforting Discussions

Definitions of discomforting discussions in business may vary from person to person and business to business. But after surveying a dozen articles on the topic, we discovered three common types that anyone moderating a meeting – virtual or otherwise – is bound to encounter.

1. Taking Center Stage

In countless posts, we have argued that moderating virtual meetings requires an active, rather than passive posture. And regardless of the fact the venue is electronic, moderators of online sessions must confront one of the most nerve-wracking aspects of business – fear of public speaking.

Lara Hogan, author of Demystifying Public Speaking, asked 300 people in an anonymous survey: “What’s your fear about public speaking?” Responses covered a wide range of anxieties – from apprehension over saying the wrong things to worrying about the tone of voice used to say them. But Hogan noticed a common thread: All the fears revolved around feeling vulnerable.

To combat these jitters, she offers two pieces of advice in the first chapter of her book:

  • Flip that fear around
    “Being nervous is totally normal,” Hogan writes. “Keep in mind, though, being nervous is not a sign you’ll do poorly. Public speaking isn’t an everyday context, and you may still get butterflies even as you gain experience and improve your speaking game.” To manage this nervous energy, redirect it, she advises: “Let your nerves become part of the process—or try accepting that—and just maybe, in time, they’ll feel more useful than disastrous.
  • Move beyond the ‘rules’
    Dozens of pundits sling list after list of tips and techniques for talking to groups of people. (Present blogger included.) But rather than view this counsel as overwhelming, Hogan recommends accepting the abundance of guidance as a set of choices: “…Do what works for you. Truly.”

2. Taking a Compliment

In her post “15 Uncomfortable Things That Will Make You More Successful,” HubSpot blogger Meghan Keaney Anderson lays down a five-step process for accepting praise:

  1. Realize that someone is paying you a compliment.
  2. Let them finish.
  3. Seriously, let them finish.
  4. Take a breath.
  5. Smile and say "Thank you. That's really good to hear."

And then, she elaborates, “Move on in the conversation. Don't over-explain. Don't undercut yourself. Just thank them sincerely and move on with a question about how their work is going.”

3. Taking Criticism

The infographics company VENNGAGE boils dealing with negative feedback down to three steps:

  1. Listen to that feedback.
  2. Decide if that feedback is constructive or not.
  3. Take that feedback to heart moving forward, or simply let it go.

To elaborate the nuances of this process, VENNGAGE developed, of course, an infographic with the opinions of more than 50 business people about fielding criticism. You can find it here.

Like any piece of business wisdom, attacking your own discomfort in pursuit of helping colleagues do the same has limits. “Too much discomfort is destructive,” Rockwell warns. So, wise collaborative moderators take their encounters with uncomfortable conversations the same way they take their virtual meetings: one by one.

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