My conflict colleague Gordon White and I have been busy these last few months creating an online course on How to Have Difficult Conversations.  We started working more closely together last year, around when COVID first hit.  At that time, we held a few online versions of a course he and I had both taught many times:  How to Have Difficult Conversations.
Since then, he and I continue to cook up ideas and scheme and dream of sharing more of what we’ve learned from our experiences as mediators, teachers and from those we interact with, our students, our clients, our podcast guests and our colleagues.
Our newest project is taking the How to Have Difficult Conversations course and making it available to anyone – night or day – as an online stand-alone course.  We are inspired by the idea of people being able to access this vital information at their convenience and as often as they want.
I’ll be telling you more soon as we are almost ready to go public! 
In the meantime, I did want to share one way working on the course has impacted me.
It’s around the idea of having “pinch conversations.”  Pinch conversations are those conversations which might seem small at the time:  like how someone rolls up their toothpaste or that they leave their cup in the sink or the volume in their voice as they talk on the phone.
However, if not shared, pinches can often build up into a “crunch” – where we either over-react to something that seems small to the other person or we check out of the relationship in some way.
Since Gordon and I have been working together more closely, it’s been inevitable (as we know so well) that we would have our own fair share of conflicts.  They are all what most people would call “garden variety” – but – as Gordon and I say in our course, it’s those little conversations that feel awkward or uncomfortable, if left unsaid, that build up to more significant conflicts.

So, we’ve both been diligent in bringing up the “pinches.”  Whether it’s something related to seeing the design of one part of the curriculum differently, or how much input one of us has on something we are working on, there is always something to see differently!

As we started to have those ongoing pinch conversations, at a certain point, they started to feel like a lot.  There is something called a “positivity ratio” which states that high performing teams express five positive comments to every negative one.  We both do share a lot of appreciative comments too, yet the word pinch was starting to not work for us.
So, we experimented with renaming our pinch conversations to “feather” conversations.  That seemed easier to hear – light, not so serious. That still didn’t’ seem to get to what the dynamic truly was however until we started to call those little conversations “feedback conversations” and “continuous improvement” conversations.
That has made a difference.  The principle of kaizen has meant something to me for years – the notion that we can do continuous improvement, that change is a good thing!

In that simple shift of phrase, our conversations become ones between allies for each other’s growth and improvement.  We all have areas we are blind to, so having someone who can help you see yourself from the outside is invaluable.
What do you think?  Might those awkward conversations seem a bit more possible if you reframed them as continuous improvement ones?
“Watch the little things; a small leak will sink a great ship.” ~Benjamin Franklin