Teenage Drinking. There’s always that first time. The one where drinks are mixed and consumed at breakneck speed in large quantities with messy results. We’ve all been there, probably more than once. So last year when my then 15 year old step-daughter’s friend called us, emotionally reporting her vomity, semi-conscious state at a party, it was not entirely a surprise (- probably less of a surprise than the horrors of the hangover were for her!)
Aaah the joys of parenting, certainly not made easier by being able to remember exactly what I was getting up to at that age and shuddering at the thought that she is doing the same thing (let’s hope my parents aren’t reading this. I’m sorry for everything 😉). Which made me aware of the need to have a difficult conversation – not something any parent or teenager really wants to have.
Not being one of her actual parents, I get a little bit of leeway in the conversation stakes – don’t get me wrong I’m still on the receiving end of every cutting remark and sarcastic mutter – but I generally get treated to more syllables than her Dad. However, figuring out how to position the ‘enjoy yourself but don’t drink so much you compromise your safety’ chat without making it seem like I expect her to be a nun was a tough one.
I dithered for a while, & finally brought it up whilst walking the dog, deciding to start by asking what her thoughts were on the situation since she’d had time to reflect. She said “Well I’m not going to say I won’t do it again because I probably will” which at least meant I knew we were starting from a point of honesty. We talked about mixing drinks, the impact of having eaten earlier on in the evening (or not), tolerances, staying in control, being safe and friends looking out for each other. It was a great conversation and hopefully not too excruciatingly awkward for her (the dog and a frisbee helped enormously). Suffice to say, since then there have been several opportunities for well-oiled repetition which have (so far) been much less messy.
In addition to reflecting on my misspent youth, the whole situation also made me think about having difficult conversations and how, because it was in a family (– rather than a work) context, I knew it was unavoidable. There was no ‘let’s wait & see if things resolve themselves’ or ‘why don’t we mention it to everyone in a team meeting’ or ‘I can just say it in an email’ option. Instead, because I knew it was a conversation that needed to be had, I thought about the best way to approach it: What did I ideally want the outcome to be? How could I position it in a way which got her to open up rather than shutting down? What questions or points might she want to raise about it all? How could I show her I was listening?
How many times had I avoided conversations that needed to be had at work because they were a bit tricky?
Group People & Quality Director
The other important thing I realised was that because I’d dithered, what this actually meant was by the time we had the conversation, I’d moved on from some of my initial emotional reactions to the situation. This made it much easier to step away from ‘tell’, talk without judgement, and let her know in a caring way why I wanted to have the conversation. Which in turn meant no eye-rolling, storming off or arguing. Result.
All this made me think about what I could take from this delightful mid-life experience and apply to my working life. How many times had I avoided conversations that needed to be had at work because they were a bit tricky? What about the times I’d reacted to challenging situations immediately, responding emotionally and so not getting my point across effectively? And also when I’ve been on the receiving end – do I (metaphorically of course 😉) eye-roll, storm off and argue? It felt like the combination of an inevitable chat and my deliberate dithering had shown me some useful techniques and behaviours that I otherwise might not have realised the value of. Since then, if I feel myself slipping into avoidance mode, or starting to respond when emotions are high, I try to take a step back and reflect on how best to deal with the situation. I don’t always get it right, but the self-awareness and pause is helpful.
In our current post-restriction working world, I’m seeing and hearing the need for difficult conversations to take place in a huge variety of situations…. A friend says they don’t know how to explain to their manager why returning to the office full time just isn’t for them; An ex-colleague tells me about the forthcoming likelihood of redundancy consultations in his current business; A client asks us for a training solution to support managers to effectively challenge non-inclusivity; A freelance contact says they’re glad they don’t need to deal with post-pandemic team-dynamic politics – these challenging chats are not going to go away. We all need to think about how we approach them and how our behaviour impacts these exchanges. If you’d like to improve the quality of difficult interactions for you and your people, talk to ted Learning about our Brave Conversations course, which we can deliver both in person and via our virtual classroom.
Roxy is the Group People Director for Squaricle Group & the Learning Director at ted Learning. She is a fundamental part of our team ensuring that our people are looked after and that our delivery is tailored to the clients needs and is ‘on-brand’.