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Courageous Inquiry: Having Conversations That Matter

A blonde, short-haired woman and a grey-haired, glasses wearing man talk about Courageous Inquiry and having conversations that matter
Toni Jennings (left) and Andy Goram (right) talk about how to have those conversations that matter

Have you ever been in a situation where you knew that you had to have a tough conversation with someone, over something important, but it made you feel so uneasy, you bailed out and avoided the whole thing? How did that make you feel?

If you're feeling frustrated and stuck in repetitive and unproductive conversations, where important issues remain unresolved and misunderstandings persist, then you are not alone! Many leaders and professionals find themselves trapped in these ineffective communication patterns, unable to achieve the trust, collaboration, and personal growth they desire. Despite their efforts to engage in courageous inquiry and have difficult conversations, they may still encounter resistance, defensiveness, and a lack of meaningful dialogue, leaving them feeling disheartened and disconnected.

So what is it about those conversations that can make people feel so unnerved about having them? And what is it about the people who seem to have no problem asking the questions others can't?

In a recent episode of the employee engagement, workplace culture and leadership podcast, Sticky From The Inside, host Andy Goram dives into the topic of courageous inquiry and the importance of having difficult conversations with guest Toni Jennings. Toni, a leadership expert, shares her insights on effective communication and how approaching conversations with authenticity, curiosity, and bravery can lead to meaningful outcomes.

Toni emphasises the value of genuine and natural conversations, focusing on the process and intentionality rather than just the desired outcome. She flags trust as crucial in difficult conversations, as it creates a safe space for emotions to be expressed and advises listeners to differentiate between coaching, mentoring, feedback, and counseling, allowing space for emotional expression without offering advice.

The conversation also explores barriers and fears when it comes to asking difficult questions. To tackle this, Toni introduces the Trust Equation, highlighting credibility, reliability, and intimacy as essential components and that by building strong relationships and seeking to understand others' perspectives, challenging conversations can be approached constructively.

So if you want to understand what it takes to up your game in asking great questions and how to step up to the plate when you need to have a conversation that matters then the following is a full transcript of the conversation, but you can also listen to the episode using the player below.

Podcast Introduction

00:00:10 - Andy Goram

Hello, and welcome to Sticky From the Inside, the employee engagement podcast that looks at how to build stickier, competition-smashing, consistently successful organizations from the inside out. I'm your host, Andy Goram, and I'm on a mission to help more businesses turn the lights on behind the eyes of their employees, light the fires within them, and create tons more success for everyone. This podcast is for all those who believe that's something worth going after and would like a little help and guidance in achieving that.

Each episode, we dive into the topics that can help create what I call stickier businesses, the sort of businesses where people thrive and love to work, and where more customers stay with you and recommend you to others because they love what you do and why you do it. So if you want to take the tricky out of being sticky, listen on.

Courageous Inquiry. The Context

Okay, imagine this you're sitting in a room, you're surrounded by your colleagues, and a challenging topic arises. How do you feel? Are you eager to dive into the discussion head first? Or do you find yourself hesitating, avoiding eye contact, taking a distinct interest in the pattern of the carpet on the floor, hoping someone else will break the silence? And how do you feel about having a similar conversation, but in a one to one situation? Does that fill you with excitement or dread?

Well, in today's episode, we're going to face into those feelings and embark on what I hope will be a transformative journey that will delve into the depths of those difficult conversations we often shy away from or fear, as I invite you to embrace the power of Courageous Inquiry. Now, Courageous Inquiry is all about defying the discomfort, facing those hard truths, and engaging in conversations that challenge the status quo and in most importantly, actually matter. It's about mustering the bravery to explore the uncharted territories of our own assumptions and biases at times, too.

Now, joining us today to guide us through this topic is Toni Jennings. Toni's an esteemed leader who's worked in the incredibly tough world of pharma for over 30 years and is perhaps best known for having the conversations that perhaps others wouldn't. Toni understands the significance of courageous Inquiry, particularly for managers and leaders who navigate the complexities of today's ever evolving workplace. So, with Toni's help, we'll try to unpack the importance of embracing courageous Inquiry and the impact it can have on our personal growth and professional success, too.

I hope she'll lead us through some practical strategies to cultivate an environment where difficult conversations are not only welcomed, but they're cherished and used as catalysts for innovative thought, collaboration, and positive change. So, my friends, if you've ever found yourself tiptoeing around challenging topics, if you yearn to empower your teams to engage in more open, honest dialogue, and perhaps if you're ready to embark on your own courageous journey of self discovery as a leader, then I think you've come to the right place. So get ready to challenge your own perspectives, step out of your comfort zone and embrace the transformative power of conversations that matter and that can hold the keys to growth, more empathy and progress. Welcome to the show, Toni.

Introduction To Toni Jennings

00:03:48 - Toni Jennings

Thank you so much, Andy. It's fabulous to be here talking about my favourite subject.

00:03:52 - Andy Goram

Ah! I mean, what a thing to be known for as the person who would have conversations and ask questions that others wouldn't. I mean, where's that come from? Do you wear that badge with pride?

00:04:07 - Toni Jennings

I do. I think it's one of those things that can sometimes be confused with directness or challenge. And I do an awful lot of coaching, and one of the things that one of the first questions I ever ask people is, "What do you want others to know you as? What's their story when they're talking about you?" And often new managers will say, "I'm really direct. I like to be really direct and really clear." And I was like, "Well, they're two very different things. Which one is it?" So I think, yeah, I do wear that badge of just getting the clarity, but also just being super interested in what my fellow humans are thinking.

Toni Jennings' Background & Current Focus

00:05:00 - Andy Goram

I'm sure this is all going to come out as we dig into this topic, but do me a favour, first of all, Toni. Just give us a little bit of your background so we can see where you're coming from, and let us know what you're kind of working on, or focusing on today.

00:05:15 - Toni Jennings

Yeah, no problem at all. So, as you've said, I've been in the pharmaceutical industry for just shy like six months off, 30 years.

00:05:23 - Andy Goram


00:05:25 - Toni Jennings

25 years of them as a leader, the last decade as a senior leader. So I've worked for the top five blue chip pharma companies, predominantly in sales, but also leading marketing roles as well. So I come with a really broad understanding of all the different conversations, both internally and externally, because one of the challenging things around working in the pharmaceutical industry is having ethical, confident conversations that potentially have impact on patients lives. The clarity is super important, and they're big organizations, thousands of employees. So clarity internally is also super important. So that's my history. I'm 51 years old, very proud in my 50s, loving every minute of it so far. And currently I run a company with my business partner, Emma, called Every Connection Counts, which is a company that specializes in bringing communication across all levels, all industries to life for our customers and the people who work with us.

00:06:33 - Andy Goram

Brilliant. I know Emma and may we'll be working with Emma on other projects in the very near future, which is exciting stuff. You said right at the beginning that this is your favourite topic. Has it always been that way? Where's the fascination, where's the connection to today's topic really come from, Toni?

Curiosity & Trust

00:06:54 - Toni Jennings

There's actually two elements. There's an epiphany that I'll tell you about in a minute, but it actually started to resonate with me. About 13 years ago, I was working in a very challenging environment, trying to launch a particular drug that had got approval for funding, but we weren't where we wanted to be as an organization. Patients hadn't got access that we wanted them to have. And what came from that is an incredibly stressful couple of years where we were having conversations across the NHS with patient groups, with doctors, with anybody who could have the conversation with us. And we were trying to persuade them that this was the right thing to do. More patients were going to survive if we got this quite expensive drug compared to what they were currently using, to be used. And it just wasn't working. It wasn't succeeding. I wasn't succeeding. It was probably the lowest point in my sales career. And I really started to reflect on the why. And I was telling people. We often try and change people's minds by bombarding them with facts, views, opinions, and we can lose trust at that point. So I started to get fascinated about trust and how it's won and lost, how quickly you can gain trust. And I tweaked and I changed my approach to really focus on being much more curious. As an organization we became more curious as well. It wasn't just me. We started to be curious internally and externally. We started to ask better questions.

00:08:40 - Andy Goram

Was that intentional, Toni? Was that like a definitive intention? We're going to be more curious?

00:08:45 - Toni Jennings

I think it evolved. We started to deep dive the business and from there came better questions. Better questions that we asked ourselves and better questions we started to ask our customers. I probably didn't know at the time what was happening as clear as I do now with looking back. But when I'm coaching people or training people, it really comes back to the forefront when I experience that inability to ask the question that matters. Because we're fearing the answer, and that's just one of the reasons we don't ask it. And I'm sure we'll cover others, but that was the first for me. I don't want to know a known, so I'm not going to ask the questions that matter, and more importantly, I'm not going to ask it because I don't want to lose any further the relationship I think we have. Because that fear of losing relationships drove me to ask better questions. But I think it was probably a quicker way of doing it.

The Epiphany of Language As A Barrier

00:09:46 - Andy Goram

Okay, and you mentioned an epiphany. So was there an event, a stimulus, a thing that kind of really put you down this path?

00:09:58 - Toni Jennings

I have had the immeasurable good fortune and pleasure to just take six months out of my life and go traveling.

00:10:07 - Andy Goram

Oh, wow.

00:10:09 - Toni Jennings

So I had my teenage gap year in my fifty's.

00:10:15 - Andy Goram

I would say that's the best time to have it, mate.

00:10:18 - Toni Jennings

It was. I don't think at my 50s... by the way, I didn't do it in my 50s, so I could afford to do it in luxury. I did it in my fifty's and still looked like I was in a gap year. I had like 50 litres of clothing. That's like four pairs of pants, two jumpers, and a pair of shorts. I wore the same pair of shoes for six months. But I travelled 13 countries, and I got to go from Asia to Australasia, New Zealand, South America, and then into America, and then home. And what really woke me up in that trip is how we ask questions, how we are curious with other nations and other communities. And when you remove the language barrier sorry, when you instil the language barrier, you have to lose a lot of what I call my fluff words. They're the words that I put at the beginning, in the middle and the end, to soften everything, to appear softer, to appear more approachable. But when you don't have that language barrier, the questions are just asked. They're just asked with clarity. And sometimes that tension that is created by the directness of that question is removed because we know that they don't have the extra words to use.

But it really started to resonate with me. And I've always been good at asking the difficult question, but I had to really dial up my listening. I had to really understand what they trying to understand, what they were trying to say without the full ability to understand the language. And it just made me even more passionate about that curiosity piece. Watching somebody with the most basic of life compared to our lives, in a Bolivian desert, where the nearest neighbour is 25 miles away and they've just got alpacas and a dog. And they are communicating and are trying to be curious about me with the most basic of English and my what I like to call Spanglish, which is my Spanish English. And it just resonated that we waste a lot of time thinking about what we want and what we're trying to get out of conversations, instead of just being truly curious about how others think and believe. It was fascinating, and it really stuck with me. I ended up taking notes in a little book, questions that I'd been asked, and I thought, yeah, I'm going to use those. I like those.

Defining Courageous Inquiry

00:13:17 - Andy Goram

I mean, learning from others is always, I guess, where we get some of the deepest learning. And I think it's really interesting. We're here to have a chat about conversations that matter. And one of the keys to having great conversations is actually not talking, is listening. We did an episode with Oscar Trimboli on listening, and if you haven't listened to that episode, go back. There's some frightening stuff about what it really takes to listen. I don't mean frightening as in scary, just like deep stuff and being conscious about stuff and being intentional about stuff can make such a difference. Let's get into this topic, then, right? Having conversations that matter. We've used the phrase courageous inquiry, so perhaps before we dive any further into it, what does that mean to you? Where's courageous inquiry come from? How do you define it? What's it mean?

00:14:11 - Toni Jennings

There are two parts to the answer to this. Courageous inquiry, at its core is about asking impactful questions of your audience. It's about exploring possibilities. It's about challenging assumptions. It's about seeking understanding. And it's about being okay with tension if tension is created. And for me, it came from watching thousands, over my career, of sales calls. And I'm going to focus predominantly at this part on selling okay, because actually it will come across to leadership, because that's where I evolved it into my leadership.

But what I tend to see when I'm watching sales calls is a fear of losing a relationship. Losing because often, certainly in my environment, and it's different for each environment, but in my environment, it was a parent teacher type of relationship with a pupil. Because we are talking to surgeons, we are talking to people at the very, very top of their game. And we are trying to help them understand data which may change their belief system, it may change their behaviour. And we train our salespeople to ask good questions, questions that are information gathering that we can use as insights to help them tailor the message to that clinician. But what tends to happen is that when they disagree with us, we struggle to challenge them, because these are experts.

But the very best people challenge back. Now, challenging back, and this is quite a British thing, and I'm going to be generalising here, is not something that we are encouraged to do from a very young age. We don't answer back. We're allowed to ask why, but probably only for about six months. Because our parents, and I am a parent, so I can very much agree with this, our parents ask us to stop using why. It just is that way. So I don't know why Santa's not coming in April. It just is that way. And so when you're in that call and they say, "I don't agree", we tend to back off because we don't want to lose that relationship. And it's worse since COVID much, much worse, because we've got access, much less access to our customers now. And rightly so, the NHS are busy, so we have less access as an industry. So then by challenging their thinking, the individual representative thinks they're challenging that person. You're challenging an opinion based on data that somebody else has provided. And so that's what it means to me. It means being courageous at the point to say,

"In order to add value to you, I'm going to ask you a challenging question, because if I ask that question, I truly think I'm going to add more value because I'm going to give you a different perspective. Are you okay with that?"

I never have anyone say no because they want that constructive feeling of healthy conflict.

The Importance of Healthy Conflict & Questioning

00:17:49 - Andy Goram

But I guess even that positioning is showing it's coming from a good place, right? It's not coming from a point-scoring, ego place.

00:17:56 - Toni Jennings

Yeah. It's intention.

00:17:58 - Andy Goram

Yeah, absolutely. Intention and positioning, I think, is really, really important. Just indulge me for a sec. You talked about the Britishness of not liking to challenge, or question. And in your experience, I'm wondering whether there is a generational piece within here. We are X'ers, right?

00:18:18 - Toni Jennings


00:18:18 - Andy Goram

The greatest generation, (obviously). Best music, et cetera. Let's not get into all of that. (No helmets) No but Boomers and X's, I guess key generational trait tended to be one of respecting authority, or certainly respect. Whereas millennials zeds are more questioning, right. That there is more curiosity because they've had access to information and don't have tto take someone's word for it. They can check you. I mean, I really love being fact checked, doing a workshop nowadays with people on phones and what have you, but it's a reality of the situation. I don't lie, kids, right? I'm speaking truth. You don't have to fact check me. But I wonder, have you seen a difference? Is there a difference? It's social science, so it's not going to apply to everybody. But what have you seen with that?

00:19:15 - Toni Jennings

I'm going to first talk about me as a mother, because my first experience is I have a 25, 26 year old daughter, comimg 26. And I really worry about this generation. They are more curious, absolutely. But they are very believing of what they read.

00:19:32 - Andy Goram


Generational Differences In Questioning

00:19:32 - Toni Jennings

They're believing of what they see so they don't tend to dig too much deeper. And they never had an encyclopedia that they had to go and have a look up a factual piece of information. But they also have an incredibly high expectation of themselves. And what comes with that is almost they don't have the space to question everything because they are competing way more than we had to compete. I got into pharmaceutical cells because I was a six foot blonde. Honestly, it's not even a flippant comment. It was when they started to bring more women into the industry. I got spoken too slowly and loudly for the first sort of two years of my career.

00:20:23 - Andy Goram

I'm laughing because it's sad.

00:20:25 - Toni Jennings

Yeah, it is. But you know what? It shaped me. I failed a lot. I was not very good. And I failed a lot and it was okay. Nobody seemed to care if I failed. I wasn't really competing with anybody. I was good at what I did. There was loads of us in the industry, thousands more than there is now. But this generation, that generation so they're sort of the mid twenty's. I think they're struggling a little bit to find out, to have the space, to be able to be as curious as they want to be. But you're right, they question way more than we did. They question way more. But with those questions, I think, comes a lot more worry than we had to put up with. The middle group, I'm sorry, I'm not very good at the titles. So they're 30's to 40's.

00:21:15 - Andy Goram

That'll be your Millennials today.

00:21:16 - Toni Jennings

Your millennials. So your millennial group. I've started to coach that group more in emerging senior leadership roles, the latter part of the 30s. This is the group I worry the most of, because if I'm honest, I feel like some areas, they've been given a 1980s management book and said lead from the front. They're not as curious. They haven't got time to be as curious as us and the experience. And they didn't come through the generation of my daughters. They're kind of stuck in this area where they are trying to be the best they can be, but they are neither IT-brilliant and embracing, like, the younger generation, or as okay with failing as the older generation. And so there is differences. But I can only say they're differences from what I look at in my training courses or my coaching. But I do know that throughout the red thread, throughout all the ages, is the brave ones, the ones who are brave and jump, are the ones who are creative, high communicators, brilliant decision makers and empowering the people around them to be brilliant regardless of their age.

00:22:46 - Andy Goram

Yeah, I mean, this wasn't meant to be a generational discussion. You can't help but kind of like, look at it. And maybe the millennials are the sort of transitional generation coming. I think they're in a bit of a tough... they've been in a tough spot. I want you to help me out with a couple of things, then. I mean, there's a really daft general question I could ask and say, well, why do people have problems asking difficult questions? But also, in this kind of courageous inquiry path that you're on, is there a meeting point here that sort of answers and breaks down why people would feel fearful of having those conversations? And is there a process, a set of commandments or tenets, if you like, that sort of instruct how to get the best out of this type of questioning?

Building Trust And Setting Intentions

00:23:42 - Toni Jennings

Yeah, absolutely. The first thing I want to talk about is the Trust equation. So David Maister designed the trust equation. I don't know if you've ever seen it, but I use 80% of my coaching. So credibility, reliability, intimacy. And interestingly, I watched a really good Ted Talk last week that was Frances Frey, who's a Harvard professor who uses a triangle, and she says it's authenticity. Empathy and being logical creates trust. But whatever you look at when we talk about Miles Downey, who did the Unleashing Genius podcast with you, he talks about authentic trust, enabling that authenticity. So the red thread that comes through, anybody who has an opinion on trust is intimacy, is authenticity, without self orientation.

So before we give the formula, if you like, before we give the how to guide, we have to first understand how you create trust. And we've all got people who say, "I give trust immediately until it's lost", or "I don't trust anyone. They have to prove themselves." Your subconscious is deciding whether you trust that person before you've even enabled yourself to ask the question. Because the intimacy part of trust. And intimacy is not a snobby out in the bike sheds just in case anybody gets confused. But it's that empathetic, authentic communication. So before we start any form of healthy conflict, constructive tension, whatever it is you want to call it, check trust. And you can get trust very quickly.

Because if you look at Radical Candour, the story behind Radical Candour walking her dog down the road, ran into a road. The first thing the guy said to her was, "I can see how much you love your dog. I can see how much you love your dog, but if you don't train him, he will die on the road." So within seconds, didn't know his name, didn't know where he's from, there was no relationship. But trust was formed because it had empathy and it had clarity. So we talked at the very beginning about intent. So what is your intention of asking that question? Why are you asking the question? If you're going to ask a difficult question, if you're going to really dig into somebody who works for you, their motivation, their desire to succeed, if you're going to take the time to be curious, what is your intention? Because I tend to find when we do this exercise at ECC, or when we're doing the training, intention is often the wrong intention. "I'm going to show that person that they're lying, what you lying for?" And it's like your intention is to show that person in a light that's not favourable to them. You will lose trust immediately, and it just becomes aggressive self-orientation. So what's your intention?

So we do a lot about intention. And then, simply put, once we know what our intention is, if this conversation matters. I will prepare that question. Those questions I will take the time to prepare because these are conversations that really matter. Remember, these aren't usually everyday conversations. I do not walk around challenging everybody. I do actually manage to get some friends. But if it matters to me, I prepare that question and then I signpost. I ask permission. Nobody has ever said no. Nobody. Because I use the word value. In order to add value to you, I need to ask you a difficult question or a question that may challenge your thinking. Because I really believe I can add value. I can give you another perspective. I can help you explore the consequence of your thoughts or offer you alternatives. But in order to do that, I need to ask you a direct question, are you okay with that? And then I ask the question, however uncomfortable it is. I use my body language to show that other person I'm not being aggressive and that my intention is clear and my intention is fair.

But the most important thing, Andy, is I just listen and I allow silence. Because when you ask somebody something, that may be uncomfortable and you have to watch this as a leader, because we don't do this enough with our people. We sit back and we ask them what they believe. We explore their thinking with them, but we sit back and allow them the space to communicate. So it's not difficult. It's intention, signpost, ask a question and then listen.

The Courageous Inquiry Framework & Contract

00:29:20 - Andy Goram

I think, like a lot of things, having a framework, having some guide rails always takes fear away from stuff, right? Walking down an icy path, hey, if there's something to hang on to, I'm less worried about slipping over and breaking a wrist. Right? And I think it's similar here because I think you've started, for me at least, to begin to touch on to how you create an environment at work where this is okay. You've almost talked about permission. I mean, there's a thing of that, "I'm going to ask you a question. Are you okay with that?" Because one of the questions I had in my mind... because I think there's fear on both sides sometimes, right. When we're thinking, or rather when I've been thinking about this topic over the last few days, prepping for today's chat, because it matters to me that we have an interesting conversation. To me, it feels like when we talk about this topic of courageous inquiry, we're constantly talking about listening and understanding potentially quite diverse perspectives. Right? Our views might not match. Our perspectives may not match. And I think you've just started to ask something, or talk about something really interesting here from a leadership perspective, in that how can we as leaders here we am putting myself in the leader bracket. How can we as leaders have these conversations but at the same time be wary or stop them turning into unproductive debates, or even arguments when there's a clash of perspectives? How's that work?

00:30:55 - Toni Jennings

Well, I always do a contract with the people who I'm coaching or works with me. We have the conversation. But I warn you, let me tell you what everybody says. Pretty much everybody says this. I ask the question, "How do you like feedback? How do you like me to communicate with you?" "I want you to be direct. I can take it. Just give it to me." And I'm like, "Okay, do you want me to try that?" So I ask other questions. "When you go home after spending time in my presence reviewing your business, do you hold on to the things I say? Does it go through your mind? Do you mull over it? Do you lie in bed thinking, I wonder what she meant by that?" "Yes, sometimes." "Okay, so direct feedback is not productive for you. We need to explore each element of it so that when you leave me, you don't have to give it a second thought." You know what I meant? So it's about contracting at that beginning relationship on how best and it always evolves, especially when I take on new people.

But one of the things that we can't have is interrogation. So the courageous inquiry should be very natural and authentic. But when you are having the difficult conversation, it should be just that in that moment. It is not having the difficult conversations all the time. I once knew a guy, he came into our lives and he asked why constantly to me. I think somebody had asked him, show interest, ask why. All I heard was, "I don't believe you. I don't believe you." That's all I could hear every time he spoke to me. And so if he said, "Help me understand where that comes from. Give me an example so I understand better what you're saying." Small Tweaks, Andy to the questions you ask every day, make them more powerful. These are not reinventing who you are. This is about small tweaks. And I always train this. Small Tweaks will make it more effective for you.

But leaders have to have these courageous conversations when they're needed, but curiosity at all times. So it becomes very natural. It doesn't happen naturally to a lot of people because they are so focused on what they need to do to lead a business. Targets, finances, processes. They take up an inordinate amount of time in a leader's mind, that I'm not sure that they are consciously competent at switching the way they communicate.

00:33:53 - Andy Goram

I'm sitting here thinking how much I resonate with the small tweak stuff. Because, well, look, you've done the work, a lot of work on change that we do, everybody wants to talk about change today, whether it's change in behaviour, change in process. Change is difficult for humans, right. Tiny changes in behaviour are even more difficult. We've all done the exercise where you've asked someone to put their hands together in front of you and ask them which thumb's on top? And then you've asked them to do it again and put the other thumb on top. How does that feel? Right. Uncomfortable. Right? Go back and put your hands on top. Immediately people go back to where they're comfy with their thumb on top. That's a tiny, tiny, tiny little behavioural change. Yeah, it feels really uncomfortable. I think this thing about small tweaks is fascinating, because we need to take these tiny little steps in order to practice and embed. So it does feel natural to both parties. Right? There's no point sitting in a one to one, or in a meeting with a script of questions that you methodically tick off and go down because that is not going to elicit the sort of responses that we're talking about here. There is no listen. There is no intentionality. There is no individual focus. There is not coming from a good place. It's the process rather than the outcome that you're focused on.

Dealing With Emotions In Difficult Conversations

And I think I'm listening to you thinking about focus on the outcome and coming from a good place. Goodness knows how many adjectives I've written down since you've started speaking about what this all means, but just come back to that thing that you've talked about, contracting and small tweaks in intentional behaviour, and the answer may still be the same, Toni, but when we're having difficult conversations, the environment is normally that something isn't working or someone isn't performing or something's not clicking. Now, as humans, we are beautiful, wonderful sacks of emotions. How do we manage that challenge that could be seen as insensitive, right? That could unintentionally end up hurting, derailing, whatever it might be. You may well have answered it already in what you've just sort of said about the contracting and permission and all that sort of stuff. But it's a fine line, right that we tread?

00:36:17 - Toni Jennings

And it's a fine line. That's why I say you need to assess trust. If you don't have trust, don't go bombarding people with questions that are intimate. Be careful with... and this is another thing that I think we need to just be a little bit careful of is I am so grateful we now talk about all parts of our health, mental health, physical health. It used to just be physical health. Now we talk about how are we keeping a healthy field force, a healthy business, all parts of that. And emotional health is as important now, I love that. The danger is we have unqualified people counselling anybody who will listen. So as a leader, I am very clear about what is coaching and what is mentoring and what is feedback and what is counselling. And sometimes when I ask questions of people who work with me that are difficult, it's emotional. And that's okay, I just give them the space to have that. I don't advise, I'm not qualified, but I listen. I also empower them to feel that it's okay. We're humans. We have got to stop this ability, this inability to think I just want everyone to see me as perfect or I want to be successful. Successful is like climbing a mountain range. You'll get to the top of one mountain, it's the bottom of another. And so I think it was Albert Einstein. I go back to Miles talking about Albert Einstein as being one of the geniuses, and he said, "I have no special talents. I'm just passionately curious." And I'm a passionate person, so I'm authentic. And if this goes into an area that's uncomfortable, my authentic self will give you space to do that.

00:38:37 - Andy Goram

And one other question around the role that you play in setting the environment, leading the conversation, listening, all that kind of good stuff. There will be people listening to this feeling out of control potentially in that situation, going into a situation where the conversation could go in many directions, someone could break down, cry, feel uncomfortable dealing with that. People could get properly vexed and argumentative. People could completely shrink and shut down and you would potentially lose some authority in that sort of situation. Are there any tricks, tips, rules that you follow to help you maintain that authority whilst being that authentic, intentional, genuine, curious, self?

Leading Conversations With Authority

00:39:29 - Toni Jennings

So I tend to work in an authority rather than in authority. So I'm an authority in leadership, but I try not to come at things in authority because I just do a different job to the people who work for me. I just do a different job. That's what it is. I have responsibilities and I'm accountable, but I just do a different job. And so what I try and do, I try and make sure that I've got a strong enough relationship with that individual to have a difficult conversation.

Now, the most difficult conversations I've ever had are with strangers. "I don't believe COVID happened." That's a difficult conversation to have. That's a conflicting conversation of somebody that has a completely different view to me and that can get heated, really heated, really quickly. What I tend to say, what I tend to use, the types of questions that I will prepare in my mind while they're ranting on data or an opinion. I will ask what assumptions you're making. I'll also ask what alternatives? So if what you say is true, what's the alternative reason? I help people keep talking by asking the good questions that help them keep talking, while I use my voice and my tonality to bring it down and to relax it. Because conflict has to be constructive, or it's just conflict.

And by the way, conflict happens to me as well. I tend to walk away from true conflict, like real conflict. It's like it's unproductive, it doesn't help my creativity and it really stretches my communication. I'm prone to swearing when it gets to that point and I think I probably have lost. But it's never happened at work, it's never happened in a one to one and it's never happened in a coaching. But I want to just give everyone that's listening a piece of advice. Be brave. Small tweaks. Try it out, but do ask the question you want to ask. Ask it as it is in your head. Because I don't get rejected because my intention is to understand. But if you ask the question and then just keep talking about what you want, that self orientation and you'll lose trust. But be brave. I was on another podcast recently and they asked me what... I use bravery quite a lot and interestingly, my daughter has it tattooed in my handwriting on her hip. Be brave.

00:42:13 - Andy Goram


00:42:13 - Toni Jennings

Be brave.

00:42:16 - Andy Goram

I would link to another tattoo, a worse tattoo is that "Don't have any Regerts" by not asking those questions. Right? Classic.

00:42:25 - Toni Jennings

I love that. I was, by the way, mortified that my daughter had written on herself. However, it was my handwriting and it was cool and it was what I always say. So obviously, I'm going to tell everybody about it.

00:42:36 - Andy Goram

Listen, my daughter is two tattoos in and...

00:42:38 - Toni Jennings

I've got a tattoo, so I can't throw stones in that house. I would have way more if I hadn't upset my mother with the first.

00:42:47 - Andy Goram

I think I would just look daft. You've started to give some advice and start to make it pointed and potted and it's amazing how quick 40 odd minutes minutes go.

00:42:59 - Toni Jennings

It really is.

Sticky Notes & Conclusions

00:43:01 - Andy Goram

But we're at the point in the show, Toni, that I call sticky notes. And so if we're thinking about leaving the listeners with three simple bits of advice that they could stick on little sticky notes to take away, and we're thinking about this bravery, this courageous inquiry, asking the questions that matter - what would you put on your three sticky notes, my friend?

00:43:23 - Toni Jennings

I've listened to your podcast and I absolutely love it and I really struggled to find that. Absolutely. I had five and I can't follow a brief, but I have narrowed it down to three. And the first one is something a fabulous manager who worked for me at AstraZeneca, I stole it from him. His name is Darren Young, so I'm going to give him credit for this. He was a fabulous leader and he used to say to me, "First, seek to understand before you seek to be understood." And I've always loved that. And I think as leaders, we tend to try and be understood, so seek to understand first. My second is be curious. Build your curiosity muscle. Ask great questions that elicit a different response than the questions that you're used to asking and listen to the answers. And the third one has to be, be brave to be authentic. Whoever you are and whatever your story is, you're the best at being you. And if you come at anything with authenticity and the right intention, you're going to succeed in any conversation you have. So just be brave.

00:44:49 - Andy Goram

I love that. Didn't sound like you struggled at all with those sticky notes, Toni.

00:44:54 - Toni Jennings

There, oh, I had, like, 15 others I really wanted to put. As I say, I really had to think about that and I loved thinking about it because it really helped me distil for me what it means. Curiosity, bravery and understanding.

Episode Summary

00:45:11 - Andy Goram

I love that. So, look, using empathy, having clarity, being driven by intent, being authentic, showing bravery, taking responsibility, listening and understanding, and then showing real curiosity. I mean, what a fabulous collection of words that we've been using today to describe this thing about having conversations that matter. Toni, I have really enjoyed this conversation. Thank you so much for coming on.

00:45:40 - Toni Jennings

I have too.

00:45:41 - Andy Goram

Where can people find out a bit more about you and perhaps all this inquiry stuff, where can people go?

00:45:49 - Toni Jennings

They can come and talk to us at Every Connection Counts, so ECC. But yeah, come and talk to us. And I think the great thing about Every Connection Counts is we called it that because every connection does count. Every time that we approach any conversation, it counts to somebody. And we just want to make people brilliant communicators great leaders and really enjoy it. High energy enjoyment and everybody learns. And the small tweaks that we'll help people have, the small tweaks to what they do every day can make huge differences.

00:46:26 - Andy Goram

Look, I'm 100% into that and I will put all of that stuff in the show notes, so people can get hold of you. Brilliant! Toni, you take care and I know I'll see you again soon.

00:46:37 - Toni Jennings

Thank you so much, Andy.

00:46:38 - Andy Goram

OK, everyone, that was Toni Jennings and if you'd like to find out a bit more about her or any of the topics we've talked about today, please check out the show notes.

So that concludes today's episode. I hope you've enjoyed it, found it interesting and heard something maybe that will help you become a stickier, more successful business from the inside going forward. If you have, please like comment and subscribe. It really helps. I'm Andy Goram and you've been listening to the Sticky from the Inside podcast. Until next time, thanks for listening.

Andy Goram is the owner of Bizjuicer, an employee engagement and workplace culture consultancy that's on a mission to help people have more fulfilling work lives. He's also the host of the Sticky From The Inside Podcast, which talks to experts on these topics from around the world.

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