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Black coffee: The freedom of having courageous conversations

Thought Leadership on Measurable Growth Strategies presented by Anavo Transformation Solutions LLC.

It’s 9:00 am, I am called into a one-on-one meeting with a CEO.

“Things have got to change around here!” he says. “We are getting nowhere! Where are we? Tell me the raw uncut truth. The only way we can get healthy is for you to tell us the truth. Don’t hold anything back.”

Quite honestly, I was apprehensive about having this meeting. After peeling back the layers of the onion, I was concerned whether the leader was ready to hear the truth.

How do I administer the blow? How do I deliver the truth that leadership has set the tone and the culture is damaged as a result? In that moment, the famous words of Jack Nicholson in the movie A Few Good Men rang loud in my ears: “You can’t handle the truth!”

In the back of my mind I couldn’t help but wonder whether I would be black balled for telling the truth. We’ve all seen it happen before. Someone interjects an honest assessment and suddenly perceptions change because the assessment that was desired was not the one that was presented. But he was right. In order for the company to get healthy, he had to hear the truth.

Enter black coffee!

In 2014, I coauthored an article entitled I Like My Coffee Black. Black coffee is what I refer to as constructive criticism and direct feedback. It’s the ability to have a courageous conversation regardless of the circumstances and regardless of the outcome.

Black coffee is telling it AND receiving it like it really is.

Black coffee is also a give and a take. It’s a two way conversation. One must be not only be willing to have courageous conversation, but also remain open to receiving critical feedback.

How do you deliver black coffee?

I follow these five key steps:

  1. Be stern yet respectful. This is not the time to be meek and mild. In order to be heard and received, your communication must be authoritative but not disrespectful.
  2. Don’t be confrontational, flippant or rude. In fact, a little nurturing may be necessary.
  3. Stick with the facts. This is not a time to be judgmental or to point the finger. It’s the time to present specific examples of situations, results and impact, and to provide insight on what could have been done differently to get a different result.
  4. Link your suggestions to the stated mission. Continue coming back to the overall objective.
  5. Establish forward motion dialogue to determine where to go from here. Determine the next steps to be taken to rectify the situation. Make suggestions and decisions on how to move forward.

Black coffee is designed to help CEOs grow an organization that is filled with professionals who are business minded and fearless about presenting their perspective. Black coffee is not about positon. It’s about positioning. Black coffee fosters an environment that encourages others to help move the needle forward. Black coffee helps the CEO see themselves coming in future situations and allows them to self-correct their course when necessary. Black coffee removes the blind spot and makes the vision clear.

Black coffee may not feel good in the immediate, but it certainly feels great in the end.

Don’t be afraid to tell the truth or to receive the truth. As my father used to tell me growing up, the truth shall set you free.

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