Episode 140: Mastering the Important Conversations You’ve Been Avoiding

Carrie Webber, Owner, The Jameson Group

Below, we’ve compiled the key points discussed in the Jameson Files Episode 140. To enjoy the full conversation with our very own Carrie Webber and Kathrine Eitel Belt you can watch on YouTube or listen to our podcast on iTunes, Google Play, or Spotify

How to Have Courageous Conversations

Carrie Webber:

Welcome back to the Jameson Files. I’m your host, Carrie Webber. I am so pleased today to have a colleague, a friend, and an expert in her field—Kathrine Eitel Belt—to talk about courageous conversations. Effectiveness in how we communicate is something that we at Jameson have believed in from the very beginning.

And that I think is where Kathrine and I connect on such a deep level. We believe in developing our communication skills and entering into these courageous conversations feeling more equipped so that we can have a successful, healthy conversation that moves us forward. So, Kathrine, thank you so much for being with me today.

We weren’t born with communication skills.

Kathrine Eitel Belt:

Oh, it’s my honor. What a fun thing this is to come together with you, Carrie! Everything happens through communication—everything. So what could be more important than learning that? After all, we didn’t come out of the womb knowing how to do this at our highest level, and most of us didn’t take a class in school. Many of us didn’t even learn it at home. Maybe we didn’t have a great example at home. And so, it’s not surprising if we find ourselves in the middle of a team, an industry, a community where people have just come to conversations sort of helter skelter.

It just turns out that there’s a simple, fairly straightforward and easy way to upgrade these communication skills and get a lot better results really quickly. So, we’re on a mission to spread this word that there are some systematic ways you can approach these hard conversations. They can actually go much easier and, surprisingly enough, you can get to a place where you even look forward to those conversations because you have some skills that will likely lead the conversation to success.

Carrie Webber:

And you know, Kathrine, we are in a season where our communication skills are the pivotal piece to relationships, to team building, to patient retention. The ability to communicate is making such a difference for successful practices and practice leaders. Are you finding that as well?

Kathrine Eitel Belt:

For sure. I think we’re societally in a space where people struggle to have a civil, respectful, successful conversation when their perspectives or opinions differ—just turn on the news, and you’ll see it. So we’re surrounded by it in our society, but also in our industry and at a local level with our community, dental practices and with families. And so, there couldn’t be a better time to give this a little attention. 

These conversations impact your bottom line.

You know, we talk to a lot of people who say, “Yeah, well, I know it’s important, but I’ve gotta really work on my scheduling systems or on my insurance or billing systems. And it seems as though they often pigeonhole conflict resolution skills, these courageous conversation skills as just a soft skill.

But we have found some research that really shines a light on how giving this training to your teammates actually has a direct effect on your bottom line. In fact, one of the studies that we looked at showed that most employees in the United States are spending up to four hours a week, either thinking about conflict, worrying about it, being agitated by someone, or actively embroiled in the conflict. That adds up to two weeks per employee, per year. 

So if you multiply that across all the employees you have, what would it look like if you could get two weeks of productivity back from every employee in your practice? Where their thoughts were not on conflict, not on worrying about conflict, and not having an argument? What if they used that time thinking about creative solutions to the challenges in the practice and interfacing with your patients at a high level?

So it’s robbing us of productivity, number one. But it gets worse. Managers, the research found, are spending 40% of their time helping others on the team to solve issues that they should be able to solve themselves. So imagine two weeks a year per employee plus 40% of your manager’s time back in terms of productivity. I think that is directly affecting the bottom line. 

And most of it is that they just don’t have the simple skills they need. It’s a really easy fix. We can address them first at our leadership level and then ultimately to the entire team.

Carrie Webber:

I could not agree more wholeheartedly! It really does start at that leadership level, just mirroring the healthy communication skills, which is such a powerful training tool. And this is how healthy communication starts in this work culture that we’re a part of. We hear time and time again practice managers saying that it’s not the dentistry that’s burning them out. It’s not the work that they’ve chosen to do clinically that’s burning them out. It’s the drama, the conflict management, the interpersonal aspects of the work that you cannot avoid.And not having been equipped with the tools to build a practice culture that makes room for healthy communication, and then engaging in that type of healthy communication is draining. It’s stressful. 

So Kathrine, tell me some of the aspects of this that we could touch on today for those that maybe this is ringing their bell? What are some of those tools that you encourage people to work on?

Leadership Tools for Courageous Conversations

Kathrine Eitel Belt:

Well, you open the door to this beautifully. I would say that really depends on your position. So if you are an owner, the first tool that you have is vision and determining your values. Imagine what life would feel like in a culture that’s fun to walk into, where everyone is operating at a highly mature level. That takes a vision that embraces the journey to this kind of culture in your practice.

1. Set the expectations.

So we have to set that culture up for people, communicating at a standard we have set as an owner. We have to tell people, “You know you can work anywhere. You choose, especially in today’s market, if you want to accept our invitation to work here, and we hope you will! And we want you to know what you’re signing on for. What you’re signing on for is a high expectation that all of us from the top down will learn these communication skills. We communicate at a very mature level, we handle our disagreements effectively. We state what we need and why. We collaborate together at a very high level, and we’re all coming into conversations expecting the best of each other, anticipating finding great solutions.”

So, that’s setting the expectation, and that’s the invitation.

Now owners may need to look to a level of management to provide those skills. But I always say that when people aren’t doing what we want them to do, most of the time it comes down to four reasons for the disconnect in results and behavior. 

2. Ask yourself four key questions.

So the first one is: Are they clear about my expectation? Are they clear about what I’m needing? And often we think we’ve been clear, but can that person repeat it back to us in a way that we find correct?

You can set the cultural expectation of high level communication, and someone could repeat back to you, “So, if I work on your team, the expectation is high level, mature communication. We solve our own issues. And when we can’t solve our issues, we take it to management prepared for them to ask us what we’ve already done.” That’s clarity.

The second piece is: Are they trained? Do they have the skills? Have we given them the tools? And many practices haven’t, but you can get them really, really quickly.

But let’s say they’re clear and they’re trained, and we still aren’t getting what we need. The third question I always look at is: Are they capable? Do they have the intellect to do this task? Do they have the physical capability to do this task? Do they have the emotional stability to do this task?

If it’s yes, yes, and yes, to those three, then our last question is: Are they willing? There are people who don’t agree that this is the way to go. They don’t agree and so they dig in their heels and do something different just because they aren’t willing to do it our way.

Too often we go straight to that last question—are they willing? But we need to ask the other three questions first.

3. Model the desired behavior.

And we have to model everything we want as leaders. And so imagine an owner standing before their team saying, “You know, it occurs to me that until now, I’ve been operating at one level of leadership and one level of clarity about what I need and want, and I’ve been frustrated. I’ve been frustrated with how we’re communicating and how we’re operating as a team. And I realize that all of that points to me. So starting today, I want you to know I take full responsibility, and from this day forward, I’m no longer going to ignore, participate in, tolerate, or pretend. I’m gonna state what I need. I’m gonna give training for the skills we need. And I’m gonna step into a whole new level of leadership. 

“I’m no longer gonna be frustrated. I’m not taking it home to my family. I’m not gonna walk around here where you all know I’m frustrated. I’m not gonna do that anymore. We’re gonna be real clear up front. And I apologize for the past. I own it. And I want you to know that I take responsibility for it, and starting today, I’m stepping into a whole new level of leadership. And I’m gonna provide training so we all have the communications skills we need to move forward into this goal.”

When someone stands up and claims a cultural vision like that, it’s amazing what the team will forgive. It’s amazing how they will step into this sort of new future. I think that vulnerability and transparency on a leader’s part is essential if you want your people to be transparent. And if you want them to be transparent, you’ve got to model what that looks like. So that’s for owners.

Managers need communications training too.

Kathrine Eitel Belt:

For managers, you’re in that sandwich position. You’ve got an owner to report to, but you also have this team that’s looking to you for guidance. I think a lot of people are promoted into team leadership positions because they were a good hygienist, or they were a good assistant or a good administrator. We promote them based on their clinical skills, but these positions require a whole new skillset. And we often don’t give them the tools. I think we lose a lot of great potential managers and leaders because we don’t equip them with the skills they need, and they become frustrated. 

Often what we find with office managers is that they’re the door. Everyone walks in to complain and groan and whine. It becomes very exhausting for a manager. So we train managers to hand that work gently back to where it belongs. Not to say, “Don’t come to me again,” but to say, “Okay, what I wanna do is coach you on how you can begin to resolve this instead of me resolving it for you.”

So the manager can help with some of those coaching skills. And I would say, broadly looking at it, this can be divided into two parts. One is mindset. And the second, within mindset, is three tools that we use for helping to recognize where we are with our mindset and shifting to a stronger one. 

In teaching this, we have a four-step process for the actual conversation. And we’re really happy that they’re simple, because if you’ve got a 17-step process, you’re not gonna remember it. We need it to be simple.

Carrie Webber:

So, you know, Kathrine, perhaps give us a little bit in terms of the mindset piece and what you mean by that. And then tell us where to find information to dig deeper into the steps that you work on with leaders and team members.

Learning the optimal communication mindset.

Kathrine Eitel Belt:

Yes. So, imagine if you could teach your team and yourself how to recognize what emotional platform you’re standing on when you go to speak into a conflict. And if it isn’t a strong emotional platform, how do you get yourself onto one before you speak? This is one of our three core principles on mindset.

The River Mindset

So we have people imagine a river that represents all the good things in their life, all the love. They want all the money. They want all the good relationships, all the promotions, all the good health, everything good in their life. All the great employees they want to work for them, or the great bosses they want to work for. All the nice patients, you know?

I ask people, “When you’re in those moments in life where everything is really working out, the kids are doing well, you’ve paid your bills and there’s money left over in the checkbook, the team’s working pretty well together…how do you feel?” And they’ll say, “Oh, I feel, you know, content, successful, happy.” 

And I say, “Would you agree that it’s in those spaces that you feel the most generous? You feel the most forgiving. You feel the most optimistic?” And, you know, that’s a place where we all feel that way. 

The Mud Mindset

So then I have them imagine the muddy banks along the sides of this river. I say, “The muddy banks represent the opposite times in life, where we go to pay the bills and there’s not enough money in the checkbook, or we can’t find the people we need to work for us, or we’re just facing hard times. How do you feel there?” And they’ll say, “You know, it’s the opposite. I feel frustrated; maybe angry. I certainly don’t feel as generous. I feel worry and lack and scarcity. I feel pessimistic, I feel vulnerable.”

Switching the Mindset

So I ask, “If you were getting ready to enter into a conversation you really wanna have with someone, can you see how, if you’re in the mud, the conversation might not go so well? But if first you recognized you were in the mud, and you had the ability to move yourself into that flow of the river where you felt more optimistic, more benevolent, do you think the conversations would be different?”

And of course, all audiences we talk to or teams that we work with say, “Of course,” and I say, “Well, then, that’s your first step. I could give you the framework. It’s surprisingly simple. But if you use it from the mud, it’s not going to work, and you’re gonna blame the framework when it’s not the framework. 

This is like mindfulness. It’s mindfulness of our state before we enter into a conversation. And you know, we’re not always taking the conversation to someone. Sometimes the conversation is marching down the hallway at us, shaking its finger at us, saying, “I wanna talk to you today before I go home.”

Either way, a really good communicator is going to internally check in. Am I in the mud? Am I in the flow? Or the river—it’s just this emotional metaphor. 

Two More Mindset Factors

1. Own your piece.

Always ask yourself, “What’s my piece of this? What piece of this is my responsibility? Because everyone has responsibility in a conversation. We may have missed something, we’ve been ignoring something, tolerating something, been participating in something, or haven’t had the skills to date to be able to make ourselves clear. There’s always a piece that belongs to us. And when you own your piece, the whole conversation is different and better.

It doesn’t mean you own the whole thing. It just means you’re always asking yourself what piece of this is mine. Make sure you’re not speaking from a victim mentality, but ask yourself what piece do I own, and how can I stand in that so that we can both come from a place of contribution?

2. Belief Systems (BS)

Another big part of this conversation skill set is to understand that we’re all operating on (what we call) BS. And that stands for belief systems. But it’s about the same as everybody thinks that word means because usually the event is neutral, but we give it meaning. And the rub is that we don’t all give the same meaning to the same neutral event.

So, lots of examples of that, but the short story is really good. Good communicators know first of all that they have their own set of beliefs about what’s good or bad or right or wrong or possible or impossible, but the other person’s beliefs may be different. And really good communicators know how to challenge their current beliefs. 

What that helps us do is figure out what limiting beliefs we might be holding. For example, if you say, “Well, I’d like to talk to that person; but you know, she never gets it ,and she never will.” That’s a belief. So when you get an awareness that, oh, I just recognized I’m holding a belief. Is there any evidence that maybe if I came at it differently, she might not offer a different response? Is there something that I could learn that could change the way she interacts with me? That’s somebody recognizing they have a belief around this and poking some holes at it by asking some really good questions. 

So one of the things I’d love to offer to your community: we have a list of powerful questions, and we’ve been compiling this list for decades and just added something recently to it. We’re always adding the next really powerful question that we could ask ourselves and others that would further a really rich conversation, either internally with ourselves or externally with others. So I’m happy to share that list and have people put it up in their team rooms and think about how they can recognize their beliefs and sort of bring down the walls of limiting beliefs.

Sometimes there’s opportunities, resources, or ideas, on the other side of a belief that you would never have access to unless you started asking some different questions. 

Printable Communication Handouts

So those are some of the mindset pieces that we train on. And like I said, we then introduce our four step framework for actually having the conversation. 

I know we have limited time right now, and we typically teach these things in a multi-day workshop. But another tool I’m glad to share in this short, 30-minute conversation is what we call our support sheet. It’s our “courageous conversation support sheet,” and on the left, it has these three pieces of mindset-shifting, while on the right, it has the four-step conversation framework. And I’m happy to share that with your listeners and viewers. 

I think it’s a tool that literally could change the world. It can change conversations at an industry level. It can change conversations at a team level. And it can change conversations around your dinner table. The skills are exactly the same, and I’m writing a book on this right now because I’m really on a mission to bring these skills to the world. I think it could absolutely positively impact our world today if we could communicate better in conflict.

Carrie Webber:

Kathrine, so much great information! I could listen to you for days, and I know others are listening and saying, “What’s the framework? How do I find the questions she’s talking about? So could you share with everyone listening, how they can reach out to you to receive these very generous gifts you’re offering or to learn more about the courses that you teach for those deeper dives into communication?

Kathrine Eitel Belt:

Absolutely. So the best way to get the powerful questions list and the courageous conversation support sheet is just to send us an email at [email protected] and put “Courageous Conversations Support Sheet and Questions” in the subject line, and Kelly will get that out to you right away. You can put it up in your team room. Don’t you use it at a team meeting; talk to your team about it. 


And if you’re interested in taking a deeper dive, we do have a courageous conversations virtual workshop. 

Upcoming Virtual Workshop

Our next workshop is Tuesday, January 18, 2022 to Thursday, January 20, 2022 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM PST.

We have it for three hours a morning over several mornings and learn mindset the first morning, skillset the second morning and then I do some demonstrations the third morning. I let the group bring their biggest challenges, and I step into their voice and sort of prove that even though I don’t know exactly what they’re gonna say or what the issue is, which is, you can trust the framework. And so I demonstrate several times, and then we put groups into some breakout rooms and give ’em a chance to kind of work out their comfort level with it before they take it back to their teams. 

So we’d love to have you if you’re interested. Again, you can find those dates and registration on our website https://www.lionspeak.net/virtual/

Train the Trainer Workshop

And we have other workshops. We have a “Train the Trainer” workshop. So if your company is big enough to have internal trainers, or you are developing your own internal team that needs some training skills or needs to learn how to onboard new people, this is perfect for you. We give them not just content, but also how do they take their current content and train it at a higher level? So people really get mastery skills quicker with it. So just check the website out and you can see those courses.

Carrie Webber:

Perfect resources, Kathrine. Thank you so much. These are such building-block opportunities! I do encourage any of you that are listening to request the resources that Kathrine’s so generously offering and visit their website at www.lionspeak.net to learn more about their courses and workshops as well as other products and resources available to you there. We’ve invested time with Kathrine, and it was time well spent for us. I know it’ll be the same for you. So Kathrine, thank you so much for your time today and for joining us here at the Jameson Files.

Kathrine Eitel Belt:

It was my pleasure.

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