Say What You Need to Say

Originally published April 4, 2017 by The Montrose Daily Press

Editor’s note: This article is part three of a three-part series highlighting the most meaningful ideas I discovered at South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas

What are you pretending not to know? Often not popular or vogue discussion topics, there are these things in the workplace (and life) we know to be true, but have a hard time saying out loud. We exist within a spirit of fear that censors conversations that desperately need to be had.

When we think about failed businesses or even relationships, I believe it comes down to one thing: the failure to have conversations. Susan Scott, author of “Fierce Conversations” says, “Things fall apart gradually, then suddenly one (failed) conversation at a time.” The more we struggle having the types of conversations that really matter, the more difficult it becomes to progress situations toward success.

Scott presents four parts of a fierce conversation (or one that actually gets something accomplished):

· Interrogate reality

· Provoke learning

· Tackle and resolve tough challenges

· Enrich relationships

We should go into every conversation with interrogation of reality. It is refreshing to have a conversation with someone who does some truth telling. Try inviting people to be forthcoming with their opinions and desires. Perhaps use the phrasing, “I want to be different when this conversation is over.” This promotes a safe environment for honesty.

As a leader and a manager, I’ve said many times: “Don’t bring me a problem; bring me a solution.” The thought behind this being we want our teams functioning on their own autonomously from leaders. Nothing is wrong with this intention, but it struck me: We are actually communicating adversity to the truth. We don’t want to hear the problem. This is fatally flawed.

In order to provoke learning through conversations, we must come out from behind ourselves and be real. And we must demand that in others too. This includes admitting when we might not have all the answers and then opening our ears to those who do. With this comes a certain humility in realizing the person who has the answers might be the janitor, the intern, or our 90 year old grandpa. Seek answers with zeal and come into conversations like it’s your first day on the job.

What is the most difficult challenge you’re facing at work? You don’t see eye to eye with your boss. You’ve got an important client who is three months behind on their invoices. You suspect your colleague is struggling with substance abuse. This is the time to remind yourself that things fall apart gradually, then suddenly one conversation at a time. And sometimes that conversation is one that never happened.

It’s time the land of passive aggressive become desolate. Stop beating around the bush. Stop giving yourself excuses not to have the conversation. Stop dancing around the words. If an area of your business is struggling, stop hiding it. Bring everyone together, expose the problem and solve the heck out of it together.

Our most valuable currency is relational and emotional content. That content is built through the roadmap of conversation. When you have solid relationships with people they become the wardrobe of your brand. In other words, your business and their relationship with you means so much to them that they fly that flag for all to see.

Madeline Albright said: “What matters anywhere in an organization, matters everywhere.” If it means enough to discuss at a management level, it means enough to discuss at a front line level. Share information without abandon in real, honest, deliberate conversations. Trust the people you have hired. We all put on our pants one leg at a time in the morning. We are all people and we all have the capacity to come together around a problem we care about.  

In the end, how we spend our days is how we spend our lives. Let’s put our head down at night no longer pretending not to know things, but instead with the satisfaction of that hard truth having departed our lips.

And in full circle, let’s also open our ears when someone else is ready to share what they’ve been pretending not to know.  

Chelsea Rosty is the executive director of the Montrose Chamber of Commerce and director of business innovation for the City of Montrose. She can be reached at