Neil Staker is founder of PeopleSmart Solutions and a Master Certified Trainer in Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer Training.
I love the Olympics—hard work, stress, anxiety, competition, disappointment, and triumph—all packed into one crucial moment. I was particularly drawn to bronze medalist, and Canadian figure skater, Joannie Rochelle. Her mother unexpectedly died from a heart attack just two days before Joannie skated her short program.
Under extraordinary stress and emotional turmoil, Joannie still managed to do her best when it mattered the most. The Olympians who did their best experienced joy even if they didn’t get a medal. Those who didn’t live up to their potential were disappointed—sometimes even when they received a medal.
We all face crucial moments when we want to do our best to be both candid and caring. Unfortunately we often feel the disappointment and frustration of falling short when we clam up or blow up. What makes the difference between success and failure in these crucial moments? Let’s go back to Joannie for a deeper look at two variables: emotional control and practice.
We often go into a crucial conversation with the best of intentions, then something goes wrong and we end up angry, frustrated, scared, or hurt. If we don’t have the tools to control our emotions, they’ll end up controlling us. Listen to how Cynthia Phaneuf, a teammate, described Joannie after the short program. “She skated kind of like a computer. She didn’t let her emotions get to her. That’s how she needed to skate—she can’t be distracted by emotions.” When facing a high stakes, emotionally divisive conversation, we need to do the same. Negative emotions can cause poor performance.
In Joannie’s own words, “I went to Vancouver expecting to go into a battle, and that battle was obviously tougher than expected.” In an interview she talked about how the hours of practice took over as she skated. Unfortunately, while many of us frequently find ourselves in tough situations, we spend very little time practicing the mental, emotional and verbal skills of dialogue. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if your honed skills kicked in the next time you found yourself in a difficult conversation?
* Cynthia Phaneuf quote from the NY Daily News, February 25, 2010.