“If all else fails, try honesty,” is a line I would regularly use when coaching senior officers at the UK Police College. After being rocked back by such a direct affront to their notion of personal integrity they usually “got it” instantly. When it comes to telling people truths that might be unpalatable, honesty is the best policy.
On the other hand, difficult issues have to be handled sensitively so when for example I am confronted in a coaching session with someone who has some habit or repetitive phrase which I can clearly see is distracting I usually steer the conversation around to self-analysis. “How do you perceive you are viewed by others?” is a good starting point. Initial responses often can be in the “Don’t know, never thought about it,” category. If you get this response don’t be in a hurry to jump in with your option. Pause. Nature abhors a vacuum. If you wait long enough your subject will fill the gap with, “I’ve heard some people say…” and then you can explore that with them and start to feed in your observations. Another ploy to get the conversation going on a sensitive area is to ask, “What does your wife/husband/ partner think/say?”
Once you have got the conversation going then candour has to be the watch word. Don’t beat about the bush. It’s often left to me in a communications coaching environment to tackle some really difficult areas. “How do you feel about your teeth,” usually gets the immediate response, “I know, I should do something about them.” “So why don’t you?”. This is usually because of a phobia about dentists often masked by statements around “I’ve never got round to it” or “I didn’t think it matters that much.” Then you have to give them the bad news, “It does matter because in the first 30 seconds of meeting you that is all anyone is looking at ” followed by the benefits of getting the teeth fixed – “People tend to associate people who take a pride in their appearance with achievement and success”.
Offering people a glimpse of rich, sunlit uplands is the key to challenging conversations. Don’t be afraid to confront the issue but always explain how life could be so much better if there is a behavioural change.