We Can Say Hard Things

My husband is a bike rider but his road bike which he’d had for many years and loved was stolen. He was devastated as you can imagine and has been on the lookout for a new one. The covid shutdown has slowed this down but as our city has reopened, he and his friend took a drive to a local bike shop located in a small country town about 40 minutes from where we live.

They had a great day out. They went through the options with the business owner, he made some suggestions and some phone calls and by the end of the visit (followed by a nice lunch of course), the business owner had arranged a bike to be brought in and would be available for husband to take a look at over the weekend. So that weekend the three off us headed off to check out the new bike. It was great, it didn’t have all of its componentry on it that husband wanted but that’s an easy fix and customising a bike with an individual’s preferences is a thing. So, after a test ride, some adjustments and then some final negotiations on the finer details we had a deal. I handed over the cash and we arranged for the bike to be delivered early the following week.

The bike technician called on the day to arrange delivery. As you would expect husband was excited and he made a passing remark about some of the componentry. “No” the technician replied, “I couldn’t do that, so I’ve put on a smaller part”. Husband was devastated as this was the premise on which he had purchased the bike. And so, the downward spiral began. “I can’t believe it, why would they do that without telling me, they knew that was the most important feature, we spoke about it at length”. He complained to his friend who agreed it was a farce and before you know it they were emailing how EVERYONE they knew who’d bought a bike from this place hadn’t been happy with the end result.

So why am I telling you this story? Because this happens all the time. The logical thing would have been for husband to ring the business owner and conifm he knew that the technician had decided to fit different componentry to what had been agreed to and to come to an agreement on the way forward. You and I can see that clearly. However, husband did not want to have that uncomfortable conversation. So instead, he made up a story in his head that this business could not be trusted, and this was confirmed by his friend and validated by the fact that “everyone” who’s been there had the same experience. Can you now hear the story husband will tell people when they ask about his bike or talk to him about buying a new bike? In the meantime, the business owner is unaware that there is a disgruntled customer (with a friend who’s shared the experience) in the vicinity. When I asked husband if he would like others to talk about our business like this without giving us the opportunity to fix the issue of course he said no and called the business owner.

How many times have you seen this? Someone is labelled as a troublemaker, their put on “special projects”, they’re known to be difficult. Do you think they were always like this? Probably not and there is a good chance there was a critical point when someone needed to have a hard conversation and give them the opportunity to course correct.

And they didn’t.

Rather than stepping into leadership making the conversation about the other person and helping them navigate their way out of a perception that had been created about them, too often we make the conversation about us. When we do that, we feel our discomfort, we justify why we can’t take action and we look and find reinforcement as to why we are right. However, when make the conversation about the other person, consider how to set them up for success we can then see what they need from us. When we give them what they need (not what we need) then we can open the door for them to create a new perception of who they are and what they can do. We no longer reinforce the story that has been told, but instead allow the space for a new meaning to unfold.

This is the heart of leadership. It’s hard, but when we know it’s the right thing to do, we can say hard things. It’s all a matter of perspective.

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