3 Tools for CFOs to Make Discussing the Undiscussables Safe for Everyone

Conversations are the lifeblood of effective working relationships. Yet some – especially those around money – are far more uncomfortable to have than others. Facilitating discussions around seemingly undiscussable subjects is entirely possible when we choose the right approach.

Meaningful conversations are not solely about what is said: what remains unsaid can be just as telling.

Additionally, how something is said and how it is heard have a direct bearing on the quality of that relationship and the actions that arise from it.

When faced with discussing the ‘undiscussable’, a simple yet strategic approach will yield significant returns:

  1. Choose a mindset

Conversations are not inherently difficult or easy. Rather, they may seem difficult not because of what we say, but because our mindset about them.

We have a clear choice: to ‘win over’ others or ‘win with’ others. Both will lead to an outcome, but each have different consequences, so choose wisely.

Which mindset we choose will in turn elicit a different range of moods, which can predispose us to different courses of action.

By choosing to ‘win over’ others, we may feel anxious about the prospect of failing. Fear and anxiety predispose us to a defensive or assertive mindset, which close off our ability to consider alternative views.

How different could it be if we chose to ‘win with’ others from a mood of curiosity and openness to new ideas? We open ourselves to new ways of seeing and doing things that may better serve us.

Being open does not mean agreeing with what others think and believe; it means being open to accepting the difference and allowing ourselves to learn.

2. Legitimise each other’s concerns

Any conversation actually has four conversations occurring simultaneously:

  • What we think and feel but do not say.
  • What we do say.
  • The same two conversations also apply to the other person.

Difficult conversations are difficult because we suppress our concerns, not because we express them. Legitimise your valid concerns and talk about what is important for you to discuss.

Then listen to the other person as they express their concerns. This requires listening to more than just what they say: listen to what they do not say too.

Be open to what concerns the other person may have and clarify that you have understood what is important to them. Because the greatest gift you can give to others is to have them feel listened to.

Also be sure to clarify the mutual benefits to having the discussion. Difficult conversations are made difficult because we start from our respective position and not from a common understanding of the mutual benefits to having the conversation in the first place.

Do not assume the other party shares your views about the mutual benefits

3. Balance advocacy and inquiry 

Persistently advocating a viewpoint is unlikely to facilitate understanding nor secure others’ co-operation and commitment. The most likely outcome is misalignment and an escalation of conflict.

By balancing advocating our viewpoint with inquiring into the other person’s perspective, we are able to move towards securing greater understanding and commitment.

We also have a natural tendency to default to finding reasons to blame others. Only when we are prepared to consider how we ourselves may be contributing to a breakdown or conflict are we able to manage or minimise the risk.

If you find it hard to answer the question of yourself, ask the other person how they think you may be contributing to making the conversation difficult. Then commit to changing what you must.

Discuss the undiscussables and jointly design the future

Only once the above strategies have been implemented does the ‘undiscussability’ of a subject become discussable.

By adopting a ‘win with’ mindset – where we treat ourselves and others with respect, dignity, and legitimacy – everything is discussable.

Then with greater understanding of other’s differing points of views, we can access new possibilities and open ourselves to learning with and from others.

To jointly design a way forward is less about securing others’ agreement and more about acceptance. When we accept the difference in perspectives, we are more likely to jointly design a shared future.

About the Author

Bernard Desmidt, author of Team Better Together, is a renowned leadership coach, facilitator, and trainer. As a team coach, his expertise is in helping teams transition to become more collaborative, high performing teams so they access more of their collective capacity and capability to achieve the greatest things possible.

Discover more at www.bernarddesmidt.com