Monthly Archives: June 2017

How Listening Overcomes “Bad Apple” Behavior

A few years ago I tuned into This American Life, the radio show and hugely popular podcast hosted by Ira Glass. Just as I turned it on, I heard Glass conclude a story this way:


“If listening is all it takes to overcome bad behavior… If listening is more powerful than meanness, sloth, or depression… It’s like a trick from a children’s story, a golden rule kind of lesson that seems way too after-school-special to possibly be true. But by listening to each other, trying to understand each other, we can get to the point where no one can ruin things for everyone else.”


What?! Having studied and taught the power of listening for years, I had to know the rest of the story. After some digging I found the episode (if you’re interested in listening, it’s the first 12 minutes). In it Glass interviews Will Felps, now a Senior Lecturer in the Business School at the University of New South Wales. Glass was interviewing Felps for a show whose theme was “ruining it for the rest of us.”

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Preparing for Difficult Conversations

Confronting performance problems, giving tough feedback, being candid about smoldering conflicts, delivering bad news: these are the impending conversations that keep you up at night, or that you wake to in the morning. They occupy your mind while you’re trying to do other work. You wonder, “How am I going to bring it up?” Your mind makes movies about what will happen, with you in the leading role: confident, wise, compassionate, firm. But at the end of each film, you still feel uncertain about how you’ll break the news in reality, and how you’ll deal with the other person’s reactions. When you finally do bring it up, you still feel unprepared. Things rarely go as you expect; it’s a wild ride with an uncertain ending.

If you are reading this in hopes of finding the silver bullet for difficult conversations, you won’t find one, because there isn’t one. No magic words will make the conversation easy or end happily ever after. But not saying anything simply makes things worse—and blurting things out can leave a bloody trail to clean up later. What makes the biggest difference is how you get your mind and your words ready for the conversation. With thoughtful preparation and three simple but powerful actions, you can raise difficult issues directly and create a playing field where they can be resolved in a professional way.

  • Manage your self-talk.
  • Speak objectively about behavior and consequences.
  • Listen more than you talk.

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