How to Have REAL Conversations


How to Have REAL Conversations

by Marcia Reynolds

Image courtesy of Ambro at

How many conversations do you have that seem to go well but nothing happens as a result? How many other conversations do you have that don’t go well because no one wants to mention the truth about the situation – fearing negative feedback and emotional retaliation?

John R. Stoker, president of DialogueWORKS Inc. has written a book to help people deal with these frustrating conversations. The book is called, Overcoming Fake Talk: How to Hold REAL Conversations that Create Respect, Build Relationships, and Get Results.

The worst situation is when you think you had a normal conversation but end up mystified when performance remains the same, accountability never improves, problems aren’t solved, customers aren’t satisfied, and challenges go unaddressed. You think you’ve shared your message, but obviously something about the conversation didn’t work.

It’s true that people easily misinterpret what they hear because of internal filters based on past experiences. As a normal human, it’s easy to beat around the bush so people don’t really know what you want. So they shake their heads and move on, letting the conversation drift out of their memory as they face other important tasks.

You may not mean to engage in fake talk, but your emotions may sabotage your desire to be real.

Hold REAL Conversations

REAL is an acronym for four skills useful for all conversations.

Recognize and suspend judgments

Express thoughts, feelings, experience, or opinions without creating resistance

Ask questions to understand

Listen and attend to messages that others express verbally and non-verbally.

REAL conversations focus on establishing a respectful relationship while speaking. The intent is to ensure that you listen and respond while speaking so that others feel understood, valued and respected. Even if someone disagrees, they don’t feel as if you made them wrong or that you devalued their ideas. They feel acknowledged, even if they have to change their behavior.

Coaching Tip:

To assess the quality of your conversations, answer four questions:

  • Am I getting the results I want after one conversation?
  • Do people feel good about our relationship during and after our conversations?
  • Can I honestly say that I treat others as I would want them to treat me, no matter who they are or what they do?
  • Can I be wrong? Are there times when what I want isn’t possible?

The last item is the most significant when judging the quality of your conversations. The greatest opportunities for holding REAL Conversations come when no one agrees with your view, and you don’t get what you want. If you aren’t open to REAL conversations all the time, you put results, respect, and relationships in jeopardy.

To achieve the results you seek, stop engaging in fake talk. Instead, engage in conversations that express what you truly think, feel, or want—and listen and accept what others truly think, feel, and want as equal in value to your own input. Together, you can find a way to make and meet real expectations.

 About the Author:

marcia cropped orange small lightMarcia Reynolds, PsyD, works with clients worldwide focusing on emotional intelligence and change. She is a Master Certified Coach and a past president of the International Coach Federation. Her website is

Contact her at 602-954-9030,

When “Helping” People is the Wrong Thing to Do


Image courtesy of tungphoto at

When “Helping” People is the Wrong Thing to Do

by Marcia Reynolds, PsyD, MCC

Recently, a very frustrated client complained, “I did my best to help my team. I gave them a clear vision and shared every bit of knowledge I have around implementing the project. They just don’t get it. We are never going to make our deadlines.”

I knew why she was frustrated: when I was a manager, I, too, had to learn the distinction between serving and fixing others. It wasn’t until I learned how to be a coach that I understood how powerful it could be to quit trying too hard to “help” others.

Helping people by giving them answers can actually stunt their development. You are taking away their ability to think for themselves. They become dependent on you and resign themselves to your authority.

Worse, you deflate their motivation. When your goal is to help people do things “correctly” you are taking the “I know and you don’t” position. You come across as thinking you are better than the people you are helping who have lesser capability, knowledge and strength. As a result, they feel irritated or powerless, not trusted and capable.

Sharing all you know isn’t bad if people are starting new ventures and they know they lack skills and knowledge. They want your help. They may eagerly listen and do what you suggest.

On the other hand, if the people you are trying to help do not see you as the great one with all the knowledge, they won’t hear you. Or, they might see you as informed but want you to acknowledge what they know too. If you don’t engage them in a two-way conversation, their resentment will block your words. They may even retaliate by doing something stupid or doing nothing at all. Then you judge them even more harshly.


Coaching Tip:

First, seek out the perspective and knowledge of the people you are serving to understand what they know. Provide information they are lacking so they can make better decisions. Then ask questions that might broaden their perspective. From here, new ideas and solutions emerge. If necessary, help them explore possible consequences of their ideas. When they come up with plans for action, ask them what particular support they need from you to be successful.

Not only will you establish a better relationship with those you serve, you will also benefit from taking this stance. You’ll feel more tolerant when you aren’t expecting people to do what you say. You’ll feel more compassion when you hear what the person is grappling with in their mind. You’ll enjoy the relationship better as you build mutual respect.

Dr. Rachel Remen, author of Kitchen Table Wisdom, writes, “When you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life whole.” Do you see people as broken or whole? They will know how you judge them by your actions.

Seek to serve instead of fix. Life isn’t about your great accomplishments. It’s about being a significant member of a greater community where we are all standing side-by-side doing our best to thrive.


Marcia ReynoldsMarcia Reynolds, PsyD, works with clients worldwide focusing on emotional intelligence and change. She is a Master Certified Coach and a past president of the International Coach Federation. Her website is

Contact her at 602-954-9030,

When Collaboration Kills Innovation: Five Time Bombs to Surface and Defuse


Image courtesy of vectorolie /

When Collaboration Kills Innovation: Five Time Bombs to Surface and Defuse

By Marcia Reynolds, PsyD, MCC

 Your efforts to promote collaboration could be killing innovation.

Collaboration is the hot word today, which means leaders and teams are expected to know how to do this. Teams come up with better ideas than individuals working on their own. Teams can get things done more quickly. However, the “rah-rah” of teams may mask the shortfalls of teamwork.

In a brilliant article recently published in the Harvard Business Review, Nolifer Merchant brought to light Eight Dangers of Collaboration. Subtle and sometimes invisible blocks to team productivity include

  • fear of speaking up against the majority
  • subtle tribal behaviors of inclusion and exclusion
  • slow reaction times as problems are talked to death
  • team assignments create more busy work for already overworked people
  • conflict is avoided so as not to rock the boat
  • solutions get watered down
  • lack of accountability

We like to coach leaders to create positive cultures and encourage team spirit. I think it is also important for teams to answer the question, “What will stop you from succeeding?”

These time bombs can kill collaborative efforts:

  1. Handclasping — One or two strong members agree with the leader no matter what, forcing others to align with their decisions.
  2. Majority voting — The majority silences the minority without fully hearing their points of view.
  3. Collusion of rebels — A number of members resist the leader’s decisions no matter what, or they question the leader’s action enough to slow down the process to an inefficient pace, demonstrating that the team is as useless as they predicted.
  4. Near-consensus — Some members don’t have all the details but the solution sounds good enough for them to go along with the others. This could lead to groupthink and possible serious errors.
  5. Village idiot — One person’s ideas are continually ignored or killed without any consideration.

In the 1980’s, I worked for a computer company that was sold to a group of four Harvard MBA graduates. The company was having difficulties shifting to the new smart computer technologies. The new owners thought they would fix our problems by creating cross-functional teams to make decisions. In a culture where departments didn’t get along and there was no corporate training, this grand experiment failed due to the collusion of rebels. The company went bankrupt a few years later.

My next job was to help take a floundering semiconductor company out of near-bankruptcy. We reorganized into cross-functional teams based on business units. Based on lessons I learned from the Harvard leadership team, I created a team training program that taught both the light and dark sides of collaboration. This allowed the team to surface and resolve resistance, poor decision-making, and unproductive practices. The team training was recognized as one of the key contributions when the company went public and became the top-performing IPO in the United States in 1993.

Coaching Tip:

To make collaboration work, make sure your teams are trained on how to do it and what to watch out for. Go into any partnership or team with your eyes wide open. All participants should have the “language of dangers” and feel safe enough to point out the possibility of these hazards occurring.

Highly productive teams know where they are vulnerable, so they can bring problems to light and commit to moving on to create a more open, respectful, and enjoyable experience.

About the Author:

Marcia ReynoldsMarcia Reynolds, PsyD, works with clients worldwide focusing on emotional intelligence and change. She is a Master Certified Coach and a past president of the International Coach Federation. Her website is

Contact her at 602-954-9030,