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The Discomfort Zone

How Leaders Turn Difficult Conversations into Breakthroughs

By Marcia Reynolds
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  • Contains 7 key ideas
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The Discomfort Zone: How Leaders Turn Difficult Conversations into Breakthroughs by Marcia Reynolds

The Discomfort Zone outlines a method for dealing with the tough, unpleasant conversations that all of us encounter from time to time. The key to successfully navigating them is truly listening to what other person has to say.

Key idea 1 of 7

If you want to change the conversation, you have to disrupt your partner’s thinking patterns.

Imagine the captivated look on a young child’s face when she sees snow for the first time. Mouth agape in astonishment, her first thoughts might be, “What is this? Where did it come from?”

This response is called the baby stare and it’s not just for children – adults too experience the same feeling of awe.

There’s a leadership technique based loosely on the baby stare which aims to inspire employees by disrupting entrenched thinking patterns. It’s called the discomfort zone.

A discomfort zone conversation is designed to encourage people to adopt a new perspective, leading them to imagine new solutions to old problems. It works by triggering negative emotions, ultimately forcing people to think more clearly.

It might seem counterintuitive that negative emotions can produce positive results. After all, we usually try to avoid discomfort! But negative emotions can actually help us by forcing us to confront reality and break down whatever biases exist in our thinking.

For instance, a colleague might feel angry about his performance at work. You try to comfort him and replace his negative outlook with a positive one, by telling him how good his work really is.

But this isn’t actually the best approach, as it might give your colleague the wrong idea about acceptable work standards. It might also make him feel embarrassed, for getting emotional for no reason.

So instead of placating him, you need to encourage your colleague to face reality and confront his negative feelings. He needs to understand why he thinks his work is subpar, and why this is making him angry. This will allow him to see the situation from a different perspective – the only way he’ll be able to solve the problem.

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