Get Results and Maintain Relationships through the Power of Savvy Conversations

Last Updated: September 10, 2018 in Business Advice

Our guest blog spot this month features our August Collective Member of the Month Savvy Sarah Harvey, Founder and Principal Consultant at SPM Ltd, a business consultancy specialising in management training and leadership coaching. Sarah has been a truly inspirational member of The Collective from the word go and when you read our interview with her – you’ll understand why!  

At The Collective, we believe in the importance of forming strong, long term relationships with people.  We see that you share this same belief as essential, can you tell us why?

Yes absolutely, strong relationships that stand the test of time are important in so many ways!

We’ve all heard the old adage that ‘people buy from people’.  Or in fact to be more accurate, people do business with people they know, like and trust.  So what better way for people to get to know you, like you and trust you than to genuinely invest in building long-term, mutually beneficial relationships through groups like The Collective?  That said, whilst growing our businesses is important, it is not all about selling our products and services and this brings me to another, more fundamental point about the importance of strong, long-term relationships.

Human beings are hardwired to be social beings. Sure, some people are more obviously sociable and socially comfortable than others, but as humans we are genetically programmed to co-operate, compete and care – it’s in our DNA. We survive and thrive through making meaningful connections with others and through developing a sense of belonging.

Finally, bringing it back to business, it is absolutely clear that strong long-term relationships help us achieve much more than we can achieve alone.  As a business owner it is the quality of relationships with clients, customers and suppliers that will ultimately lead to long-term success, not to mention personal well-being. And as an experienced Leadership Coach, I know that leaders who take the time and effort to build good relationships with their teams and peers are ultimately more successful and more fulfilled.  Working at this stuff is definitely worth the effort!

Where do you start when you are trying to build a good relationship?

There are a number of important factors but I think the most important aspect to building a good relationship is that it has to be based on mutual trust.

To trust someone we must believe they are well intentioned towards us and that they have our best interests at heart.  To place confidence in others and grow a good relationship over time, we must have faith that the other person doesn’t wish to cause us any harm.  Once we have trust, even when we disagree we can be reasonably comfortable because we trust that their motives and intentions towards us are honest and without hidden agenda.  So be genuine and authentic, invest time in the relationship so you can get to know one another and trust will grow.

For more on building trust in relationships, do check out a paper I wrote for a publication called “Trust in Organisational Life” – you can download it for free from the Resources page of my website.

Why do we avoid certain conversations and how can we overcome that fear?

There are a number of reasons why we tend to avoid conversations – wanting to be liked is a big one!  Fear of conflict is another major problem for people, as is unhelpful self-talk which means we can get in our own way (are we telling ourselves ‘I don’t know what to say’, ‘what if I get it wrong?’, ‘these conversations always go badly’ … you get the idea).

The main underlying reason I have found though, through research of the psychology of good conversations and years of experience, is that there is something about having certain conversations that can make us feel ‘unsafe’.

Our inbuilt FIGHT or FLIGHT response can be very unhelpful, making us feel unsafe and this often gets in the way of us having a conversation we know may be tricky. Am I going to be embarrassed? Will they get angry or upset? What if they argue with me and I don’t know how to respond?

The good news is that understanding our fight or flight response can lead us to greater insights into our own behaviour and help us overcome that fear.

Recognising your own body’s response to preparing for a difficult conversation can help you prepare and act accordingly. Through relaxation and meditation exercises, you can actually calm the response down so that you are better prepared for what lies ahead.

It’s essential to keep in mind that when we feel threatened (or unsafe) open dialogue is simply not possible.  Instead of focusing on the topic of the conversation we start to fear that the other person may not be well intentioned towards us, we start thinking about whether they are trying to hurt our feelings, or upset or embarrass us, instead of being able to listen to what they are actually saying and take it in.  This is when emotions take over and arguments develop, things can get heated and it can all spiral out of control!

  • Watch your own and the other person’s body language and tone of voice.
  • Is one of you cutting the other off, forcefully changing the subject, or overly controlling the conversation?
  • Have you resorted to insults, belittling, threats, guilt-trips? (This sort of behaviour is driven by concerns over intent)
  • Try to avoid sarcasm or point scoring!

How do you help your clients have savvy conversations?

I’m a leadership coach, management training facilitator and business consultant and I’ve also got over 20 years leadership experience.  That said, it only really dawned on me about 5 years ago that our success, both at home and at work, depends on the quality of the conversations we all have with one another.  We build relationships, teams, connections, achieve projects and get business results, all through communicating with each other in one way or another.  So that’s when I set about researching and developing my own Savvy Conversations® concept and STREET*CREDS® model to help people understand where and why communication often goes wrong, learn what can be done to maintain more positive relationships and get improved results through having more effective conversations in the workplace.

I’ve now worked with thousands of individuals using the Savvy Conversations® approach and I love it!

I work 1-1 with small business owners, Company Directors, CEO’s and Board members, coaching them to be the best they can be and acting as a trusted advisor, providing support, challenge and focus across the range of issues they face.

I also run various training sessions to facilitate individual learning and improved team performance through in-house workshops such as team effectiveness, workplace relationship-building, effective communications, motivation and performance management, unconscious bias, conflict management, bullying and harassment, emotional intelligence, leadership and management skills.

Because of my Savvy Conversations® approach, I also get asked to carry out workplace mediation to help resolve conflicts.  I do this by encouraging people to honestly and sensitively explore their different perspectives, expectations and behaviours and encouraging people to be able to move on positively and put the conflict behind them.

Finally I’ve developed some resources to help people in different ways. My e-book Savvy Performance Management was published 3 years ago and has been downloaded over 7000 times and my Savvy Teams Workshop Cards help teams be more successful using 40 team strengths and 40 barriers of successful teams.  (both available via my website).

And finally, what advice would you give to anyone who struggles with having frank, open and honest conversations?

The first thing I would say is that you’re not alone!  Don’t worry, many people struggle with this type of conversation.  The key is to decide that you want to get better at them, or perhaps stop avoiding them altogether.

So what can you do to help yourself?

  • Try to get yourself in the right mind-set for a constructive conversation – are you thinking logically or are you letting your emotions get in the way?
  • Make an effort to build good, trusting relationships. If you do this as a matter of course, when it comes to having a difficult conversation later down the line you have all of that trust there between you making it easier for you to be honest and open. People are less likely to take it the wrong way.
  • Be careful about what your own self-talk is saying. If you’ve always told yourself the conversation will probably go wrong, guess what, it will probably go wrong because you’ll take all that thinking into the conversation with you and it will affect what you say and how you say it.  So start to re-write your internal dialogue “I can do this, it’s just a quick conversation.”  “They will respect me for being honest with them.” “I’ll feel so much better once this is out in the open.”
  • We all want to be liked but don’t let that get in the way of an important conversation. Remember, in business and in life, sometimes people won’t like what we have to say and that’s OK.  It really is possible for people to disagree with us sometimes without them disliking us as a person or damaging our relationship.
  • Finally, get some help! Build your confidence by learning some simple tools and strategies to make sure you’re having the right conversation, in the right way, at the right time.

Thank you so much Sarah. What an incredible blog post! So full of incredible knowledge, advice, tips and resources.