I’ve been reading and rereading Difficult Conversations by Stone, Patton and Heen. I find it particularly useful because it identifies the thing that has always baffled me about “those” conversations: they’re not about facts and logic. Even though we spend inordinate amounts of teeth-grinding time on “But you said…” and “I don’t remember saying that, but if I did that’s not what I meant”, what happened is just one of three conversations we are really having.

The book tells us there are 3 conversations:
The “What Happened” conversation – what was the intent, who’s to blame and what is the truth
The Feelings conversation – we both have feelings and if we don’t make them explicit in a non-threatening way, they can take over, leaving us overwhelmed and confused.
The Identity conversation – what does this say about me? Am I a good person, am I worthy of love, and am I competent?

They follow on with examples, words to say, and ways to correct common mistakes.

It’s exciting to think that conversations that seemed so obscure and confusing actually were! Have a look.

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The Adaptive Coaching Framework

I have observed the following skills of people who successfully adjust in a highly volatile environment:

  • Knowing what matters
  • Noticing what matters
  • Knowing when and with whom to connect
  • Taking action to connect
  • Knowing when and how to respond
  • Taking action to respond
  • Learning and adapting to the results of their action
  • Committing to repeating the cycle to grow and become strong

From my observations and discussions with those adaptable folks, I’ve developed the following simple approach for thriving in a world of constant change:

  • Notice
  • Connect with others
  • Respond 
  • Learn and adapt
  • Repeat

Of course, “simple” doesn’t imply “easy”!

Adaptive beings, whether human or otherwise, notice things happening, connect with each other about what they notice and whether it’s important, they respond to the change, they learn and adapt, and repeat again and again.  Notice that the response occurs before the learning.  Action is important to adaptation.  

In fact, the two most important steps are connecting and responding.

Life on earth doesn’t wait to be told what to do.  It self-organizes, makes mistakes, tries new ideas, and adapts.  If we can give up the machine model of people and organizations, we can learn this too.  

My clients and I work on the goals they want and build their adaptive capability by loosely following the Notice, Connect, Respond, Learn, Adapt framework and adjusting as we go.

It’s a great journey!