When the going gets tough, get your strengths going

Difficult conversations are inevitable – and the workplace is no different from other areas of life. To ask for a pay rise, let someone go or resolve a dispute are tough issues to talk about – and to do so effectively means having the right approach. At 10Eighty, we believe that understanding and playing to your strengths is an essential underpinning to not only surviving, but also thriving through having difficult conversations.

So what is a difficult conversation? We are indebted to the excellent book “Difficult Conversations: How to discuss what matters most” by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen of the Harvard Negotiation Project for the answer. A difficult conversation is basically anything that we find hard to talk about. As the authors put it: “Anytime we feel vulnerable or our self-esteem is implicated, when the issues at stake are important and the outcome uncertain, when we care deeply about what is being discussed or about the people with whom we are discussing it, there is potential for us to experience the conversation as difficult.”


Every difficult conversation is in fact made up of 3 different conversations interweaving simultaneously. These are the:-

The Actual Conversation. This comprises the …

  • Truth assumption: It is tempting for us all to feel that we are right and others are wrong.
  • Intention invention: We believe we already know the other persons’ intention, based on our feelings (i.e. you’ve made me angry).
  • Blame game: The assumption is all about the fault of the other side (i.e. you did something wrong).

The Feelings Conversation. This is because …

  • Feelings are at the core of difficult conversations.
  • How you manage your feelings will define how the conversations go.

The Identity Conversation. This raises 4 key questions …

  • What is the conversation saying about me?
  • Does the conversation match how I see myself?
  • How will this conversation impact on me?
  • How do I feel about myself?

How we use our underlying strengths will define our success in reconciling these 3 strands. This is because playing to our strengths allows a more positive mind-set in the face of difficult conversations, which means more constructive conversations and more positive outcomes. The Strengthscope tool used successfully by 10Eighty with clients shows us that strengths that are directly applicable to having successful difficult conversations. These are:-

  • Thinking: Where we apply your intellect, as well as how we go about gathering and using information to make decisions at work.
  • Emotional: Where we make sense of, express and manage our emotions in the way we perform our work.
  • Relational: Where we establish and maintaining productive relations with others for personal need satisfaction and/or to achieve our work goals.
  • Execution: Where we focus on how we deliver results, including both what is delivered and how it is delivered.

The positive psychology of playing to our strengths in the face of difficult conversations makes for better relationships in work, as well as in life. The research evidence is clear. When employees are encouraged to play to their strengths, an organisation enjoys: a 73% improvement in employee engagement; a 44% increase in customer retention scores; and a 90% of employees feeling more positive and solutions-oriented.

Difficult conversations are inevitable. So when the going gets tough, let’s get our strengths going.

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Michael is Chief Executive of 10Eighty. 10Eighty is a career and talent management consultancy that helps organizations maximize the contribution of their employees by ensuring satisfying jobs and careers for their employees. Michael is a Human Resources professional, having worked in the National Health Service, Insurance, Commodities and Derivatives industries. He has worked within the career coaching business for fifteen years, both managing a £7 million business and delivering bespoke, one to one career coaching. In the last 15 years Michael has run businesses that have helped 75,000 people make successful career transitions. He is a frequent commentator in the press/media, which includes a range of topics on “successfully managing your career” and talent management. Most recent media mentions have included BBC South, CNBC, Radio4, Financial Times, City AM, Financial News, Evening Standard, The Sunday Times, The Grapevine and HR Magazine, to name but a few. He writes a careers column for People Management, a blog for the Human Resources Magazine and is a regular contributor to The Thompson Reuters HR Portal. Michael is known as a thought provoking speaker in the HR industry. In the last 18 months, Michael spoke at the Careers Partner International Conference, NHS breakthrough conference, NHS North West Leadership Academy, London School of Economics, University of Westminster’s Talent Management Conference, ICAEW Finance Directors Conference, CIPD learning and development conference and CIPD branch seminars. He is also Chair of the CIPD’s Central London Branch. Additionally is a non executive director of Marshall ACM, an e-learning company and the Total Reward Group, a compensation and benefits consultancy. Michael plans to publish his book “The guide to everlasting employability” in the Autumn 2012. He has just launched an iphone app “careers snakes and ladders” and an online interactive version of the book in collaboration with Marshall ACM to coincide the launch of his new business 10Eighty. Michael has a degree in Economics, a MBA from Warwick Business School and is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. He holds an accreditation from the British Psychological Society for the use of psychometrics. Michael has completed the Fairplace Internal Accreditation Programme, the training element of which is externally recognised by the Association for Coaching. Michael Moran was until January 2012 Chief Executive of Fairplace and a main board director of Savile plc, the career and talent management consultancy. Fairplace is part of the Savile Group, an AIM listed plc. The Savile Group was placed 16th in the Sunday Times top 100 small companies in 2010.

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Michael Moran – CEO 10Eighty

A blog about career and talent management, things that might help you with your career and in your job.