Seth Godin’s Akimbo: Difficult Conversations

In his Akimbo podcast, Seth Godin teaches us how to adopt a posture of possibility, change the culture, and choose to make a difference. Here are my takeaways from the episode.

In this podcast, Seth discussed the art of having difficult conversations, how to have one, and how not to have one.

We all dislike or maybe even fear to have difficult conversations with someone. Our culture has taught us that difficult conversations are the thing to avoid.

Seth wants to argue that a difficult conversation is awkward because we want two things. We want someone to change, and we want them to like it.

When we try to achieve these two goals in one conversation, the conversation gets a lot more complicated. We magnify the impact of one or the other, whichever one is harder, and we end up avoiding it altogether.

It is essential to keep several things in mind as we break down our feelings about the difficult conversation. The first one has to do with authority and other’s feelings. When we have the power, and other’s feeling is not a critical consideration, we usually do not view it as an awkward conversation.

Also, when we need to give a direct statement or feedback because the situation requires it, we do not see it as a difficult conversation.

But most of the time, we are stuck because we do not see the conversation can be direct without caring for the other’s feelings. In those situations, the concept of enrollment becomes essential.

Enrollment means that two people want to reach the same destination, and one person is relying on the other person to show the way. When two people are enrolled on the same journey, difficult conversations get easier. That is because the conversation is more about reaching the goal, rather than about someone’s feeling.

So the best way to move past a difficult conversation is to spend far more time working on enrollment. Enrollment means sharing not only a common objective but also resources, gains, and risks. Enrollment also requires mutual trust between the two parties.

Too often, in an industrialized culture, enrollment is hard to achieve between the boss and the worker. The industrialized culture does not promote an environment where the boss and worker share gains and risks equitably. The same culture also does not encourage mutual trust.

So, the best way to change our culture is by earning trust and enrollment first. Once we have trust and enrollment, then difficult conversations become a lot less difficult. With enrollment, the conversation is no longer personal.

In summary, there are two approaches to change a difficult conversation. One approach is to make it direct with a solid basis. That is not a difficult conversation anymore because it is based on a clear, mutually understood standard or guideline.

The second approach is to invest in building involvement, trust, and enrollment. When we agree to go on the same journey by enrolling ourselves, the conversation becomes much less about anyone’s feeling.