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IDEAS. STRATEGY. TACTICS. INNOVATION. INSPIRATION.

Chrisa Zindros Boyce On The Art of Difficult Conversations



As Chief Strategy Officer for Handel Group, Chrisa Zindros Boyce brings over a decade of management and executive-level leadership. Throughout her career, she has worked on building brands and creating business driving initiatives that have positively impacted sales, profit, and employee retention for large and small companies. In her role as an executive coach Chrisa leads Diversity and Inclusion Workshops, Culture Transformations, and High Potential Training Programs across the globe. She supports both growing companies and industry conglomerates in designing cultures and structures that lead to increased employee retention, engagement, and profitability. Her roster of individual clients includes an international group of serial entrepreneurs, perennial corporate executives, and established individual contributors that hail from a broad range of sectors including finance, entertainment, fashion, tech, non profit + government. She believes that authenticity breeds confidence and as such she supports her clients in staying true to their values and unapologetically honing their voices.


What are the key benefits of speaking up and having tough conversations?

We want a life that makes us happy and includes experiences and relationships that benefit us. That requires us to live in the concepts of clarity, intimacy, trust, connection, resolution, and freedom. When we live in those concepts we show up as people who can be trusted to be leaders and role models. When we are not speaking up, we're not creating the space in our relationships, for connection and intimacy.


Most of us will avoid having the difficult conversation because what's on the other side is something you have to contend with. And that can be really scary. But for all the things that you want in your life, you’ll need to learn how to have beautiful conversations with people and be able to sit on the other side, even if it doesn't go the way you want it to go. Regardless of the outcome, you will have clarity and the ability to feel empowered in your world because you're the one out there broaching the tricky topics.


What should we consider when approaching these conversations?

Consider what you want more of. Really sit with yourself for a moment and go what else would I want more of? Do I want more clarity or transparency or intimacy? Do I want more connection or freedom to just be myself and be accepted for who I am? Take a moment and just reflect on that because when we don't tell the truth to ourselves, we live in a facade that takes us out of being in integrity with ourselves.


What is the fear that gets in the way of having honest discourse?

There are voices in our heads that hold us back and the first voice is the chicken. It's the most common one because we want to stay a part of the pack and avoid rejection. When we talk about our fears, we talk about them on three different levels.

  1. Fight, flight or freeze: Fight you become argumentative. Flight you leave the situation. Freeze you shut down.

  2. Avoidance and manipulation: Avoidance is used to sidestep failing, looking bad or getting criticized. Manipulation can be used to either downplay or exaggerate situations.

  3. Lying: Lying involves saying what we need to say to get people to like us or keep them in our corner.

The second voice is the brat. It's the voice of resistance. The brat sounds like "I don't want to." "You can't make me." "I don't feel like it." For anybody who has kids. It is your children stomping their feet and refusing to go to bed or eat their vegetables. It also comes out as entitlement. "It's not my job." "Why do I have to do this?" As well as defiance. "I'm not going to do it and you can't make me."


The third voice is the weather reporter. The weather reporter is the voice of all your wonderful excuses and justifications. It puts you in a passive position. We read the report to give up our power. We relinquish control of having to design our life or create ideal relationships. We blame external circumstances even though internal challenges like fear and being a brat are the real dilemmas.


It usually takes about seven conversations to improve a performance issue with someone at work.

Often an inability to communicate openly results in micro-agressisions. How would you define a micro-aggression? How do you know when it's happening?

Microaggressions are the small ways in which people insult, make assumptions or stereotype you. They're tiny. For example, I worked in corporate America for a long time, and I'd often be asked to handle the coffee. I was one of the only women on the leadership team and it was just assumed that I would get the coffee. It's a little bit insulting and demeaning and it shows someone's bias. What's interesting about microaggressions is most of the time people don't even know they're doing it.


One of the things that we teach people in coaching is if you are experiencing microaggressions, it's up to you to figure out how to deal with it. Sometimes it's not safe to have a conversation with the person directly. You might need to follow the right chain of command to ensure you're getting the appropriate support to address the person. But if it's completely safe to craft the conversation and go have it.


How do we craft those conversations?

The principle we teach people is the principle of grace and wisdom. There has to be a balance between grace and wisdom in order for conversations to be effective.


Grace is about caring about your audience. It's about making sure that the person on the other side hears what you have to go say. Grace is about kindness, empathy and compassion. Wisdom is about saying it like it is, straight to the point, no holds barred. Wisdom is about being direct, being truthful, and being clear.


If your grace and wisdom are out of balance it can have negative consequences. If you have too much grace you walk away feeling like you didn't get to say what you intended to say. If my wisdom people are too blunt, direct and clear the person is left with a dead body, meaning they can't function. Now the person is mad, disappointed and feels like you don't like them.


I'm a wisdom person, I leave dead bodies all the time.


Here's a step by step approach

  1. Ask for permission. Make sure the other person feels safe.

  2. Set the context. Explain why you want to have this conversation.

  3. Don't rush. Ask reassuring questions and make sure they are following the conversation.

  4. Be transparent. Model for them accountability and humility.

  5. Stick to the main issue. Stay on topic to get the most pressing issue resolved.

  6. Listen. Sit, absorb and respond back, acknowledging their response.


Is there a gender difference between who shows more grace vs wisdom?

Not really. It tends to be more about your relationship with the person. If you have a strong relationship you've really fostered, you'll get better responses than if you didn't. In coaching, we usually start by working on the relationship first. Start being the best version of you in that relationship, really show up for the person and you'll be able to see how balancing grace and wisdom begins to occur naturally.


What is the three grumble rule?

It radically shifts how we express our feelings in relationships. It's an exercise to ensure we aren't stepping over things and creates opportunities to have tough conversations. It's designed to keep us in a powerful author-like position where we're in charge of our lives and having these conversations as they come.


Here's the rule. If you hear in your head, or you express out loud, feelings of disappointment, frustration, anger or irritation towards someone three times, you need to go have a conversation with that person within 24 hours. That's the rule, and it's super effective.


As human beings, we get irritated by a bunch of things. The first time a thing annoys you it's not too hard to let it go. The second time, it bothers you. By the third time, you have a pattern with someone. Now you see that person as annoying or irritating. If you continue to let that fester, it's only going to grow over time. So by applying the three grumble rule, you prevent yourself from having to have these larger conversations. Instead, in the moment, you can go talk to someone with grace and wisdom and say, "Hey, you did something the other day that didn't sit well with me. Can we talk about it and get resolved?" The conversation happens much faster, it's not as scary and you feel more empowered by it.


Here's the rule. If you hear in your head, or you express out loud, feelings of disappointment, frustration, anger, or irritation towards someone three times, you need to go have a conversation with that person within 24 hours.

How many conversations does it take to see changes in a person's behavior?

It usually takes about seven conversations to improve a performance issue with someone at work. The reason for that is there's a learning curve. When you give someone feedback, imagine them rolling up a curve. They will make some improvement, but they always roll back down at least a little bit. As a person impacted by their growth, be prepared to have multiple conversations where you celebrate the progress and reinforce the places that need improvement. They will continue to go up and down on their learning curve until the curve gets less challenging.


In personal relationships, it usually takes about three conversations to resolve an issue because the learning curve is not as steep.